Put gay marriage to public vote, says cardinal Keith O’Brien

Keith O'Brien says people of Scotland should decide on gay marriage. Picture: Greg Macvean
Keith O'Brien says people of Scotland should decide on gay marriage. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THE head of Scotland’s Catholic Church has ­demanded a referendum on same-sex marriage in a last-minute intervention on the eve of a final decision on the issue by ministers.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien says a referendum was “crucially important” because of “intense public interest” in plans to make Scotland the first part of the UK to recognise homosexual ­weddings.

The proposal to legalise gay marriage resulted in the biggest response to any Scottish Government consultation and ignited a debate between gay rights supporters and the Catholic Church.

The cardinal, writing in today’s Scotsman, says politicians have failed to grasp the “dangers” of the changes being ­proposed.

He writes: “The concern for those who demand equality cannot allow us to consign to history our understanding of the basic goods of human society”.

The challenge was issued ahead of a crunch meeting of the SNP cabinet tomorrow to decide whether to introduce a bill in favour of same sex marriage to the Scottish Parliament.

Cardinal O’Brien suggested that a referendum on same-sex marriage was as legitimate as the 2014 vote on Scottish independence, as he issued the statement pitched directly to ministers attending the meeting. He highlighted the fact that the same-sex marriage consultation received almost 80,000 responses – three times more than the SNP’s government’s consultation on the independence referendum.

He said: “There has been much debate in Scotland about the referendum on independence. The proposed referendum is crucially important.

“Clearly, if it is sensible to hold a referendum on independence, it is crucial that we have one on marriage. It is the only way the country can move forward on this issue.

“Let all those who have a view on this subject place their trust in the Scottish people and let Scotland decide.”

At the start of the consultation, which closed in December, the Scottish Government said it “tends towards the view” that same-sex marriage should be introduced, although faith groups and their celebrants should not be obliged to solemnise the ­ceremonies.

It is expected to announce its plans for the legislation this week. Alex Salmond, who has indicated his personal backing for same-sex marriage, could face unrest within his own party if the Scottish Government changes its stance due to a significant number of high-profile SNP MSPs publicly supporting a shake-up of Scotland’s marriage laws.

The Equality Network, which has led the campaign for a change in the law, suggested that the cardinal’s demand was a wrecking tactic and called on the government to “stick by its principles” and support same-sex marriage.

Leading figures in the Yes to independence campaign such as Independent MSP Margo MacDonald and Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) leader Colin Fox called on SNP ministers not to abandon their support for the move at tomorrow’s cabinet meeting.

Tom French, policy coordinator for the Equality Network, said; “We urge the Scottish Government to stand firm, stick by its principles and make the right decision. With cross-party support in parliament, and majority support amongst the public, it is now time for the Scottish Government to back equality and bring forward equal marriage legislation without delay. It is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it.”