CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce gay marriage in Scotland could cost the SNP government victory in the forthcoming independence referendum, a former leader of the party has warned.
Gordon Wilson led the speakers at a rally organised by the newly formed Scotland for Marriage organisation which has emerged to oppose the plans.
The Scottish Government has launched a consultation exercise on the issue, but First Minister Alex Salmond has said he supports the move.
The rally outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday brought together representatives from the Catholic Church, Church of Scotland and Muslim community.
Mr Wilson, leader of the SNP between 1979 and 1990, warned the issue could jeopardise the support of huge strands of religious groups with an independence referendum down the line.
He said: “All they are doing is alienating people and you don’t want to alienate people on the eve of an election – an important referendum where every vote will count.”
The issue has already caused a row in SNP ranks after backbencher John Mason lodged an amendment stating that no organisation should be forced to take part in gay marriage.
Asked if it could cost the party the referendum, Mr Wilson said: “That’s my judgment.
“I came through the hard days when every vote had to be fought for. The SNP did very well in the last election, but the referendum is more important than any one election and it’s nearer.
An SNP spokeswoman said there are “a range of views” within all parties on the issue. “The SNP committed in our manifesto to launch a consultation on equal marriage and we would encourage anyone with a view to take part in that consultation.”
Scotland For Marriage supports the current legal definition of marriage and is resistant to plans to redefine it to include same-sex couples.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Scotland’s senior Catholic clergyman, again set out its vociferous opposition to the proposals as he addressed the crowd of about 200 campaigners.
“If the Scottish Government attempt to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which the nation, including people of all faiths and none, have passed in them and their tolerance will shame Scotland in the eyes of the world,” he said.
Ann Allen, former convener of the Church of Scotland’s board of social responsibility, said: “There are all sorts of consequences that are going to result if the Scottish Government proceed down this route.
“I cannot see one positive consequence for the young people of Scotland or for the parents and grandparents in Scotland.
“It’s certainly not a route that I want to see our society travelling down.”
The Church of Scotland has not adopted an official position on the government consultation, but says individual ministers can voice their own opinion.
Bashir Maan, the former Glasgow councillor and Muslim community leader, who attended the rally said: “I’m concerned about this, and so is the Muslim community, because I think it could be the beginning of the destruction of society as we know it.”
“If there’s no family, what about society? These politicians should look forward and have some foresight – what will become of the family without the union of a man and woman?”
He said the issue could damage the popularity of the SNP government.
“I think people will be looking at their political loyalties after this,” he added.
He denied the current situation discriminates against gay people.
“They have the right to civil partnership; marriage is something different. Marriage has always been, right from the dawn of history, between a man and a woman.”
Currently, same-sex couples can enter a civil partnership which carries full legal rights but the ceremony cannot be conducted in a church or other religious premises.
Tom French, policy coordinator for The Equality Network, said: “The vast majority of people in Scotland support same-sex marriage. For most people this is a simple issue of love and equality.
“If a same-sex couple love each other and want to get married, then why should they be banned from doing so?
“With all the problems currently facing the world, people will struggle to understand why organisations like the Catholic Church are wasting so much money and energy on this homophobic campaign.”