'A sad day for Scotland:' Churches reaffirm opposition to same-sex marriage

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MSPs voted yesterday in favour in an initial debate on a bill to legislate same sex-marriage, but the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Free Church have reiterated that they stand opposed to the change in law.

The Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee approved stage one of the bill yesterday, which could result in same-sex marriage becoming legal by 2015.

The Church of Scotland, however, has released a statement affirming its conviction that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

Reverend Dr Alan Hamilton, Convener of the Church of Scotland's Legal Questions Committee, said: "Until any future General Assembly of the Church of Scotland decides otherwise, that remains our position.

"But our commitment to care for all people, gay and straight is no less. We stand against homophobia."

Reverend Hamilton went on to add that support for the bill is not unanimous in Scotland, despite an overwhelming number of MSPs voting in favour - 98 votes to 15, with five abstentions.

He argued that public opinion was not reflected accurately in Parliament, and that there is a "spread" of different views among the general public and those within the Church.

Reverend David Robertson, minister of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, reminded the Scottish Government that their own consultation on gay marriage showed that 64 per cent of the 77,500 Scots who responded said they were opposed to a change in the law.

"The Scottish Parliament, without due consultation of the Scottish people and with the electorate not actually having the opportunity to vote, have made this fundamental change in Scottish society," he said.

"This is a very sad day for Scotland and for Scottish democracy."

He warned that the passing of this initial stage of the bill would only be the beginning of social change in Scotland, irrespective of public opinion. "There will soon be demands for further change," he said.

The Church of Scotland also raised fears that clergy will be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies as a result of the threat of court action claiming discrimination.

The Reverend Hamilton has said the Church will seek "robust and detailed legal assurances and protection for those who do not wish to conduct same sex marriages as a matter of conscience".

He has also assured that as the bill progresses, the Church of Scotland would continue to be a "constructive voice" in the national debate.

Despite the overwhelming majority of MSPs approving the legislation, there was some dissent in Parliament among members from all political parties.

Jim Hume of the Liberal Democrats heralded the bill as "A demonstration that our Scottish society values everyone - no matter their sexuality - and no matter their relationships," and Green MSP Patrick Harvie called it a "proud achievement" for Scotland.

However, Labour MSP Elaine Smith said that the bill did not protect freedom of speech for those who were against same-sex marriage, and spoke of the abuse that she herself has already received as a result of her decision to oppose the move to change legislation. "Ive 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."

Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone was also one of the five who opposed the bill, speaking of his concern that the bill could undermine traditional marriage. He said that society had begun to fall apart, and argued that "one of the priorities of this parliament should be to strengthen families, to find ways to reinforce marriage...in order to gain stability."

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