Scottish legislature gives green light to same-sex marriage

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Alex Neil introduced the legislation on behalf of the Scottish Government.
Image: The Scottish Government.

Members of the Scottish Parliament voted 98–15 in a free vote yesterday to approve the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill, which seeks to legalise marriage between partners of the same sex. If the legislation is passed, Scotland may start allowing same-sex couples to marry in 2015.

Scottish government ministers have attempted to reassure religious groups who oppose same-sex marriage they will not be required by law to conduct them, but may "opt in" to conduct ceremonies for same-sex partners. The law also contains provisions that would protect individuals from being required to perform marriages if their congregation has opted-in but they disagree with same-sex marriage.

Alex Neil, the Scottish government health secretary, said the bill "will create a more tolerant society in Scotland and will mean that, in respect of marriage, there is genuinely equal rights right across the entire community".

Support for the bill crossed party lines. Jim Hume from the Liberal Democrats said the vote was "a demonstration that our Scottish society values everyone — no matter their sexuality".

Conservative MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) Ruth Davidson — who is herself a lesbian — argued in Parliament that the bill "matters to the future nature of our country. We have an opportunity today to tell our nation's children that, no matter where they live and no matter who they love, there is nothing that they cannot do. We will wipe away the last legal barrier that says that they are something less than their peers. We can help them to walk taller into the playground tomorrow and to face their accuser down knowing that the Parliament of their country has stood up for them and said that they are every bit as good as every one of their classmates."

From the Labour party, Mary Fee argued against the claim that existing civil partnership legislation was satisfactory: "I ask the opponents of the bill who comment that civil partnerships were introduced for LGBT people whether the suffragettes were happy when the Representation of the People Act 1918 was introduced, allowing women over 30 to vote. No, they were not. They fought for a further decade to enfranchise all women and equalise the voting ages of men and women."

Elaine Smith, also a Labour MSP, said she feared MSPs opposing same-sex marriage were being "bounced" into supporting the bill for fear of being branded homophobic. "Since indicating that I did not intend to support the redefinition of marriage, my religion's been disparaged, I've been branded homophobic and bigoted, I've been likened to the Ku Klux Klan and it was suggested that I be burnt at the stake as a witch", Smith claimed.

John Mason from the Scottish National Party said "Parliament is not reflecting public opinion on this issue" and the public was more divided on the issue than the parliamentarians in Holyrood were.

Outside the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, a demonstration was held by the LGBT rights group Equality Network supporting the bill. Tom French from the Equality Network said of the vote: "Tonight the Scottish Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to back same-sex marriage and uphold the principle that we should all be equal under the law."

Colin Macfarlane from the gay rights group Stonewall Scotland also welcomed the vote: "This is a truly historic step forward. We're absolutely delighted that MSPs have demonstrated overwhelmingly that they're in touch with the twenty-first century."

The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland both oppose the Bill. Reverend Dr William Hamilton from the Church of Scotland said while the Church opposes same-sex marriage, they stand against homophobia and "will continue to be a constructive voice in the national debate" about the bill.

In July, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed into law in Westminster and will allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.


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