Scottish Parliament passes same-sex marriage bill


The Scottish Parliament has today voted to legalise same sex marriage,making it the 17th country in the world to do so. 

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill passed easily with 105 votes in favour and 18 against. There were no abstentions

The bill's primary proponent, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil, said: "Today is a momentous day for the history of equality in our nation."

He said the law would make it clear that the country was: "A Scotland where we all believe in 'live and let live'."

MSP Jim Eadie described the law as a "decision that Scotland can rightly be proud of".

Scottish LGBT advocacy group, the Equality Network, said the vote was "a milestone for LGBT equality in Scotland".

The supporters of the bill often defined equality in a very binary form, with MSP Jackie Baillie saying "we don't pick and mix, we either have equality or we do not".

Dissenting MSPs pointed to the possibility of abuse and potential discrimination against religious groups, as well as those who oppose same-sex marriage on principle.

The bill's supporters made repeated assurances during debate of the opt-in nature of the law for religious organisations, promising that free speech was protected and that no religious body would be compelled to conduct same-sex weddings.

"There are robust protections for religious bodies," said Mr Neil.

However Mr Neil also said: "The bill does not include a specific opt out for civil registrars."

Some MSPs took an aggressive view towards those who opposed the bill, with MSP Patrick Harvie questioning whether opposition to gay marriage was a necessarily homophobic opinion.

Highland MSP John Finnie equated opposing gay marriage to religious groups who throw goats off towers to their death.

MSP Mary Fee also made claims that the Bible should not be used to attack same-sex marriage because the "Bible also supports slavery", and prohibits cutting hair.

Despite the fact that several MSPs acknowledged the fact that feedback to the public consultation was overwhelmingly negative against allowing same sex marriage, the views expressed in Parliament were overwhelmingly positive.

MSP Jackie Baillie claimed that support for the bill was equal across religious and social backgrounds, and stated that gay marriage was supported by 50% of Presbyterians, 66% of those in deprived backgrounds, and 63% of those in the most affluent communities.

A number of amendments to the bill designed to protect the Church and other religious institutions from potential legal action or discrimination were all rejected.

This included amendments to confirm "respect for the view that marriage can only be between one man and one woman", a protection for the possibility of adoption decisions being denied for those who oppose same-sex marriage, protections for those who might suffer discrimination on the basis of beliefs, and protections for charitable status for organisations that do not support same-sex marriage.

Many supporting MSPs however argued that it was not possible to provide specific legal defence for the view that marriage is something only between a man and woman as it would mean that other beliefs would also need to receive protection, such as opposition to divorce.

The Parliament also rejected possible amendments to provide a review of the legislation in five years.

Questioning the need for such a provision, and dismissing the possibility of serious negative unintended consequences, Mr Neil said: "If we turn out to be wrong, which would be highly unlikely in this matter, we would bring forward corrective legislation."

MSP Richard Lyle said of those who opposed the bill that "they are not bigots, they are fearful", referring to potential discrimination based on a negative opinion of same-sex marriage.

MSP John Mason, who proposed many of the amendments that would have provided extra protections said: "The Scottish Parliament should send a signal that intolerance of those who disagree with gay marriage will itself not be tolerated.

"Will Christians be squeezed out of working in the public sector? We are not sure," he said, as he pointed to the problems faced by religious registrars in England, where same-sex marriage was legalised last year.

MSP Richard Lyle highlighted the example of one Gordon Wilson, who was voted off the committee of his Citizens Advice Bureau for his opposition to gay marriage.

The case of Gary McFarlane, the relationships councillor who lost his job for saying he would not in conscience be able to provide sex therapy to same-sex couples, was also brought up in the debate. He was sacked by his employer, Relate, and lost his appeal against the dismissal.

In a statement, the Church of Scotland raised similar concerns about protections for those who do not support gay marriage.

"We are also concerned that public servants, particularly registrars and teachers, who do not support same sex marriage, may find themselves disadvantaged in the workplace," it said.

MSP Alex Johnstone dissented from the general view in Parliament, questioning the lack of support for further safeguards. "It remains a concern that there will be an ongoing effect. [Same-sex marriage law] changes many things we will not be able to predict."

Mr Johnstone also pointed out that the lack of protection for charitable status could be dangerous, pointing to the case of the Catholic charity St Margaret's Adoption and Family Care Society, which almost lost its charitable status for refusing to place children with same-sex couples.

While the charity has managed to hold onto its charitable status, the case cost several thousand pounds. Mr Johnstone argued: "A small church or a small charity cannot possibly afford the legal costs to battle this issue."

MSP Margaret Mitchell said she was disappointed that none of the amendments had been accepted.

"This bill will elevate the views of one group of society over another," she said.

Mr Neil dismissed suggestions that Parliament had not listened to dissenting views, saying: "No bill in this Parliament has had more consultation than this one."

The first same-sex marriages are expected to take place later this year after the Scottish Government pledged to speed up the implementation of the bill.