Scottish Parliament backs equal marriage

Jim Caron Euan Hannah at equal marriage rally 4 FebLast night there were many celebrations across Scotland as the Holyrood parliament passed its same sex marriage bill by a margin of 105-18. All Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs voted in favour.

While England might have been ahead of the game – its first marriages will happen next month – the Scottish Bill is much better. In Scotland there transgender people won’t have to suffer the indignity of a spousal veto and religious organisations who wish to do so can opt in to perform same sex marriages.

Before the parliamentary debate, I went along to a huge and happy rally outside where the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Alex Neil, told the crowd that passing this legislation was a great day in the history of Scotland. He said that he wanted to see the first marriages take place this year. The photo shows me, Jim Hume MSP, and Liberal Youth Scotland’s Euan Davidson and Hannah Bettsworth.

My mistake at the rally was, unknowingly, to stand next to the machine that released the ticker tape. It was a very unexpected loud noise and it knocked out my hearing in my right ear for a while.

Liberal Democrats only generally get one speech in Parliamentary debates these days. The honour on this occasion was Jim Hume’s. This is what he said:

Fairness and equality runs through the veins of every true Liberal Democrat I know. We want Scotland to be one of the fairest and most equal places in the world. That’s why we support legislation enabling gay, transgender and lesbian couples to marry. When MSPs met to debate the Bill at stage 2 last November, Scottish Liberal Democrats were pleased to have had the opportunity to vote in favour and we remain supportive of the Bill today during its final stage.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill demonstrates that our society values every person equally irrespective of their sexuality, and that we regard every relationship as worthy of equal recognition. If two people in a loving relationship want to formalise that through a religious or civil marriage ceremony, then they shouldn’t be prevented from doing so. In other words, there should be no differentiation between what’s available to same or mixed sex couples.

I strongly believe that that sense of fairness and equality also runs deep in the psyche of every Scot, and indeed, that view has been reflected in the emails and letters I’ve received over the last few months

Key to this whole debate has been the issue of respect for everyone’s opinions and getting the balance right.

I think the Bill as it stood at Stage 2 struck a good balance. It was recognised that in voting to uphold the intention of the Bill to allow for equal marriage, it’s also important to respect the rights of individuals and faith organisations not to carry out same-sex marriages if they don’t wish to. Liberal Democrats believe that the stage 2 amendments acknowledged that balance.

As a Liberal Democrat and someone who was brought up in a household of good church goers with a mother who broke another mould by becoming the first women elder in the parish, I believe it’s important to do the right thing.

Inequality is a form of oppression and can manifest itself in many different forms and to varying degrees. Some are more subtle than others. It’s true that society has come a long way in terms of gay rights and equality issues. But I don’t buy the argument that gay people should be happy with what they have, as though they’ve been given special concessions up until now.

The idea that a gay couple should have no legal right to a religious or civil marriage ceremony makes the massive assumption that marriage doesn’t apply to you; that you cannot express your religious view or commitment to marriage if you’re in a same sex relationship. Taking that a step further, preventing same sex couples from marrying is preventing a section of the population from expressing their marriage beliefs and this in my view represents a subtle and creeping oppression that should not exist in a civilised society.

Religious affiliation and sexual orientation are not mutually exclusive to one another.

Indeed, 19th century business woman, Anne Lister, whose diaries discovered after her death revealed much about her private life, said it best when she wrote of her sexuality, “this is my nature. To act in opposition to my nature would be more wrong for me than to be a married woman. I am living my life with the nature that God gave me. It is perfectly ok”.

As an aside, it’s interesting that Anne Lister should primarily be remembered for being the so called “first modern lesbian”. In fact, she is arguably a role model for women and men to this day – she was an independent business woman in her own right and became one of the first women to climb the Pyrenees. She lived her life her way – with the nature God gave her.

Perhaps that interest in her love life says something about the preoccupation we still have as a society today about sexual orientation.

Presiding Officer, in passing this legislation today, we’re making the proud statement that we’re not content to isolate a section of our diverse community.

We’re not giving preferential treatment to any one group.

We’re simply saying that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the same rights. Anything less, is inhumane.

Extending equality of marriage in Scotland is something that Scottish Liberal Democrats are very proud to stand up for. There can be no excuse for isolating a section of the population for any reason – whether that’s on the basis of religious affiliation, skin colour or gender – and for that reason, Scottish Liberal Democrats are proud to support the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill through its final stage today.

And in doing so recognise the many constituents who have contacted me supporting this Bill, also recognise the positive campaign, both by Stonewall and the Equality Network, in particular throughout this debate. As well as Alex Neil for his determination to bring this legislation to this Parliament, and for his meetings he has held with myself and others to ensure Scotland is seen as a leading light for Equality. I look forward to voting for this historic Bill at decision time today.

Both sides of the independence referendum debate would be well advised to look at the very successful campaign for equal marriage. Relentlessly reasonable and positive in the face of strong adversity, it won hearts and minds with its calm approach. Certainly, it’s a lot easier to sell the equality of love than either breaking up or keeping the UK together, but the campaign, and in particular its spokesperson Tom French deserve huge credit for keeping cool under pressure. Tom had to sit in tv studios and hear some incredibly ill-informed and quite nasty, homophobic things said to him. He never once lost his cool even under that intense pressure. If the independence debate could be more like the equal marriage campaign, it would engage a great many more people.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Eddie Sammon 5th Feb '14 - 10:12am

    Great news.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 5th Feb '14 - 10:12am

    Well done to the Scottish Parliament, that’s really good news.

  • Sensible policies for a happier Scotland!

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