MSPs urge First Minister to stay course on gay wedding legislation
Gay rights campaigners are hopeful that the government will announce on Tuesday that it will press ahead with plans to make Scotland the first part of the UK to recognise homosexual weddings.
Despite strong signs that the Scottish Government is inclined to introduce marriage for homosexuals, there have also been concerns that ministers may delay the legislation in the face of opposition from religious organisations.
Yesterday, MSPs in Salmond’s own party who have campaigned for gay weddings were adamant that there should be no delay in bringing forward the new law.
Jim Eadie, the SNP Edinburgh Southern MSP, said: “The message to the Scottish Government should be stand firm, hold your nerve.
“Do not turn back, and do what is right for the people of Scotland and the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community. I think we are on the verge of an important victory in terms of this debate.”
Eadie, who is also the parliamentary liaison officer to Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, is one of several MSPs who have campaigned enthusiastically for the change.
Another SNP politician at the forefront of the debate has been Joe Fitzpatrick, the Dundee City West MSP who co-sponsored a parliamentary event in support of same-sex marriage.
Speaking as Gay Pride supporters marched through Glasgow, Fitzpatrick said the legislation could be framed in such a way that would prevent religious organisations from being forced to carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Scottish ministers have sent a strong signal that they favour an approach that would give religious organisations the freedom not to hold homosexual weddings if they believe that they go against the teachings of their church.
Fitzpatrick said: “My personal view is that I can’t see how you could take any other view than the position that the government has already outlined.
“I think that works for everyone. As MSPs, we have had a lot of correspondence and I think the biggest concern is that human rights legislation is used at some time in the future to force a church that didn’t want to conduct a same-sex marriage to conduct a same-sex marriage. There is a desire to find a way to give those churches who don’t want that the assurance that won’t ever happen.”
Fitzpatrick added: “If it helps to have something on the face of the bill to try and give an extra degree of confidence, I don’t think that would be a bad thing.”
The Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland and Muslims have been among those to oppose same-sex marriage.
The uncompromising stance taken by the Catholic Church, which argues that gay marriage “redefines nature”, could prove problematic to the SNP, which has made a big effort to attract Catholic voters.
Opponents of the legislation have also quoted a QC’s legal opinion, which argued that exempting religious organisations from performing same-sex marriages could be challenged under European equality laws.
Originally, the Scottish Government was scheduled to publish its same-sex marriage consultation before Holyrood broke up for the summer recess at the end of the June.
Since then, the consultation, which has attracted a record number of responses, has been delayed once more while the Cabinet discusses the issue. Scotland on Sunday understands that much of the discussion focussed on how churches could be reassured that they would not be left open to a legal challenge.
Alyn Smith, the SNP MEP who is also a strong advocate of gay rights, said: “All the indications that I have is that the centre of gravity in the party, and indeed the parliament, [in favour of same-sex marriage] is where we would want it to be.”
Smith added: “There will be a decision positively, there will be a decision negatively or there will be a decision to postpone it. Of those three options, the last two are pretty unlikely, but that is my own guess.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There has been some slippage in the timetable due to the huge volume of responses – 77,000 in total – and the time taken for these to be analysed by Cabinet. Cabinet have had a first discussion on this and have asked for some further detail. We fully expect to be in a position to publish the way ahead this month.”