Gay marriage will be introduced in Scotland, announces SNP
Scotland is likely to lead the rest of the UK in legalising gay marriage after the SNP cabinet reached a breakthrough agreement on Wednesday morning.
Announcing the agreement, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships: we believe that this is the right thing to do.”
A bill will be brought forward to the Scottish parliament to put the change into law. MSPs will be given a “free vote”, meaning that they are free to vote in line with their conscience rather than with the party whip. Sturgeon indicated that, presuming the vote is affirmative, the first gay marriage ceremonies could take place at the beginning of 2015.
The SNP party line is committed to the change, as are the leaders of the Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Tory parties. There is expected to be a clear majority in Holyrood in support of the bill.
However, despite this broad-based parliamentary support, Wednesday’s confirmation appeared only after considerable delay. Gay marriage stirred up a storm in Scotland, with a consultation producing a record 77,000 responses, three times the number of responses to the consultation on independence.
Much of the opposition has come from church and religious groups, in particular the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland. Both had argued that a referendum should be held on the issue. This was rejected by the SNP, who argued that the Scottish tradition of holding referendums was directed towards constitutional issues and not matters of conscience such as gay marriage.
In Wednesday’s announcement, Sturgeon looked to reassure church and other groups opposed to gay marriage.
“We are also deeply committed to freedom of speech and religion,” she said.
“The Scottish government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for, under existing equality laws.”
She added that an amendment to the UK-wide Equalities Act may be required, in order to ensure that individual celebrants who refuse to conduct or speak out against same-sex ceremonies are protected from legal and disciplinary action.
Furthermore, a consultation will be held on any extra provisions needed to guarantee free speech, such as expression of the religious beliefs of parents and teachers.
Yet, another consultation is expected to be held on a draft version of the bill, which will be published later this year.
Many other organisations greeted the announcement with great enthusiasm. Tom French, policy coordinator at gay rights group the Equality Network, said: “Today is a proud day for Scotland. Same-sex marriage is about equality and freedom – the freedom for couples, and for religious and humanist groups that want to, to celebrate same-sex marriages.”