Western Isles Outlaw Gay Civil Partnership Ceremonies

Councillors in the Western Isles of Scotland have voted to officially outlaw civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples which begin in Scotland on 21st December, reports The Scotsman.

|TOP|The Western Isles, where Presbyterianism remains the bedrock of values, will become the only part of the country where gay couples will not be able to take part in civil partnership ceremonies.

According to The Scotsman, the move is to affirm the determination of the islanders to keep 21st century secularism off the island, and to preserve their belief that marriage should only involve a man and a woman.

Gay campaigners have protested the move, however, with a threat to appeal against the council on the basis of the human rights argument in order to ensure that gay couples living in the Isles are given the right to register their civil partnerships.

Already, more than 150 gay couples across Scotland are making last minute preparations for their civil ceremonies to begin Tuesday.

|QUOTE|Sir Elton John and long-term partner, David Furnish, are among the 700 couples in England and Wales expected to take part in civil partnership ceremonies when the law is brought into force there on Wednesday.

All registry offices will be legally obliged to perform basic registrations, at which gay couples will sign an official civil partnership document before two witnesses, under the Civil Partnerships Act, passed last year at Westminster. Councils across the country are also offering to conduct ceremonies similar to heterosexual civil weddings.

Councillors at a meeting of the Western Isles Council’s Policy and Finance Committee held last Thursday voted to outlaw such ceremonies following complaints from the council’s registrars who said they would be unwilling to carry them out.

The decision means that homosexual couples wishing to take part in a civil partnership ceremony will either have to travel to the mainland or make do with legal registration.

|AD|Highlands and East Renfrewshire councils also raised doubts over whether to conduct gay civil ceremonies but agreed to offer them to same-sex couples following pressure from the Scottish Executive and gay rights campaigners.

Calum Irving, director of the gay charity Stonewall Scotland, said the Western Isles council's move could trigger an appeal under European human rights law.

He said: "I received an assurance from the Scottish Executive that any couple wishing to have a registration and ceremony in Scotland would receive one, so it is very concerning that the Western Isles have taken this stance.

The Western Isles council, however, is refusing to budge on the issue. “It is a practical decision: our officers don’t want to do them so we didn’t even go into the debate [over morality],” said Angus Campbell, chairman of the policy committee.

The Isles, where the Free Church of Scotland on the northerly isle of Uist and the Catholic Church on the southerly isles of South Uist and Barra continue to hold enormous sway, are likely to come under scrutiny from liberals and gay rights campaigners following the decision.

Rev. Tim McGlynn, of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) in Scalpay, said: “To try and force them [the registrars] to do something they think is immoral would be unjust.

He explained: “The position on the isles is that the people in positions in power are far more likely to personally have a faith which is guiding the things that they do.”