The first survey of Scotland’s 129 MSPs on the issue has revealed that 69 politicians have now pledged they will support gay weddings, putting more pressure on Alex Salmond to press ahead with the controversial legislation, despite concerns that it could lose the SNP votes in the independence referendum.
Salmond’s Cabinet is expected to discuss the issue this week, shortly before publishing results of its consultation on proposed legislation.
The Scottish Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, and the Glasgow Council of Imams have outlined their objections to gay marriage on moral grounds. Sir Brian Souter, one of the SNP’s biggest donors and a committed Christian, is also strongly opposed.
And some figures within the SNP Cabinet have privately expressed the view that going ahead with such divisive legislation could harm the Nationalists’ chances of winning the independence vote.
But the survey, revealing widespread parliamentary support for same-sex marriage, will make it difficult for ministers to argue that tackling the issue should be delayed until after the 2014 referendum to avoid a damaging confrontation with the churches.
The survey has been conducted by the Equality Network, the national charity fighting for gay rights, and is largely based on the MSPs’ responses to its Equal Marriage Pledge.
The scale of MSPs’ support means that the Equality Network will seek to work with an MSP to introduce a gay marriage Private Members Bill should the Scottish Government decide not to bring forward legislation of its own. In theory, the survey indicates that a Private Members Bill would pass through Holyrood even without government endorsement.
Last night, Tom French, policy co-ordinator for the Equality Network, said: “With a clear majority of MSPs now committed to voting for equal marriage, the Scottish Government has the opportunity to lead the way by introducing full marriage equality; both civil and religious.”
The survey revealed that several SNP Cabinet ministers were in favour of gay marriage. According to the Equality Network, the views of Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a vocal proponent of gay marriage, were shared by finance secretary John Swinney and justice secretary Kenny MacAskill. Salmond has publicly stated he is in favour of homosexuals marrying.
The expectation is that SNP MSPs will be given a free vote on the issue.
So far 34 of the 68 SNP members have declared that they are in favour of gay marriage.
Of the Labour representatives, 25 out of 37 MSPs have said they support gay marriage and they were joined by all five Lib Dem MSPs, both Greens and Margo MacDonald, the independent.
Of the 15 Tories, only two have declared their support for the legislation: the openly-lesbian leader Ruth Davidson and her deputy, Jackson Carlaw.
Only nine MSPs have indicated that they are opposed to gay marriage and seven of those are Conservatives.
Joining the seven Tories against the proposal were Dave Thompson, the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, and Bill Walker, the former SNP member who has been expelled from the party and has been arrested after domestic assault allegations.
The remaining 60 MSPs had not made a public declaration of their views on gay marriage. Those who had not come forward to sign the Equality Network’s pledge included the devoutly Catholic SNP ministers Roseanna Cunningham and Michael Matheson.
Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church, said legislative change on such an important issue should not just be left to politicians.
“For something as fundamental as a change in the legal definition of marriage, which would have enormous ramifications for society, the question must be put to the Scottish public in a referendum,” Kearney said.