What happens people work together – equal marriage to become reality in Scotland

The Scottish Government announced this morning that it would legislate for full equal marriage in Scotland, giving same sex couples the right to marry and allowing those religious organisations who wish to conduct these marriage ceremonies to do so. No celebrant or religious organisation will be compelled to carry out marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. This is everything that campaigners for equal marriage have been asking for and is the culmination of a vibrant 4 year campaign which has won hearts and minds across Scotland.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that cross party support for equal marriage had played a part in the Government’s decision as the Scotsman reports. She said:

We are also mindful of the fact that the leaders of all of the other parties represented in parliament support same sex marriage and that there is significant parliamentary support for legislation.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has been highly vocal in his support for equal marriage and he welcomed the Government’s move:

 This is a small but important step for equality in Scotland. I’m sure there will be bumps on the road but Nicola Sturgeon can count on my support to deliver equality in marriage.

These reasonable changes are about removing barriers and extending freedoms. It’s never been about compelling churches to conduct marriage ceremonies against their will. That’s why I will work with Nicola Sturgeon to secure changes to the UK Equality Act to cement religious freedoms if such amendments are needed.

Willie was keen to emphasise that this isn’t some huge, monumental step, but it really amounted to legislators catching up with public opinion, where polls show over 60% in favour. In terms of the amendment to the UK Equality Act, I understand that this is easily done by a Parliamentary Committee. It will affect only Scotland and will be done once the Scottish Parliament passes the legislation. It’s about protecting individual celebrants who are opposed to same sex marriage in a church which allows it.

Those of us in all parties who support marriage equality will now make good on our promise to stand with the Government in the face of what will be very noisy opposition from the leaders of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations.

This means that Scotland will be introducing wider ranging equality in marriage than England. Although Nick Clegg favours allowing religious marriages, the Coalition’s plans relate only to civil ceremonies. I wonder if the news from Scotland will give greater impetus for further reform south of the border.

It just goes to show, though, what can be achieved when people work together across political lines. It’s an example of grown up politics at its best and we really should be looking at how we can do more of this kind of thing.

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

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  • Daniel Henry 25th Jul '12 - 2:17pm

    Sounds good.
    Hopefully it will help set precedent and encourage Westminster to allow religious institutions to provide same sex marriages if they wish.

    Dave, what’s this “opt out” clause you speak of?

  • This is a huge step forward compared to last week’s tribal response by Willie Rennie. The speed of his shift in position is less of a u-turn and more of a hand brake turn! These arrangements may not be perfect but it is more progress on this issue than seemed likely at any time during our 8 years in coalition. It is apparent that the SNP are more willing to take Scotland in a liberal direction than our Labour coalition partners were.

  • One more thought – This will be a fantastic opportunity for Gretna to expand its marriage industry!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Jul '12 - 6:49pm

    Dave, I take your point on mixed sex civil partnerships. That’s definitely something to pursue. There’s no point in sorting out the issue of people having to divorce when they change gender in order to create the same problem for civil partnerships.

    I don’t agree with your point about the churches, though. The Equal Marriage campaign in Scotland basically got everything it asked for. We were clear from the start that no church or celebrant would be forced to conduct SSM if they didn’t want to. I think there is an argument for separating off religious rites from other services. It’s not right for a b and b owner to deny a double room to a same sex couple, but we have to let them carry out their religious rites as they see fit. Clergy have all sorts of arbitrary reasons for turning down people for baptism, marriage or whatever, many of which are quite subjective. It’s the maximum freedom, really, allowing those who want to carry out SSM, but not compelling the rest. Not perfect, but it’s as good as we’re ever going to get.

  • Evan Harris 26th Jul '12 - 7:47am

    It is important that no momentum is given to the idea that individuals delivering public services or commercial services are allowed to discriminate against LGBT people on grounds of conscience (because we don’t allow this on racial grounds, even if such beliefs were religious as per the South African Dutch Reform Church). The question therefore would be in relation to Dave Page’s point as to whether a religious marriage (or provision of religious venues for civil partnerships as per the “Alli” amendment) is a *public service* or whether it is purely a matter of religious practice (in which case it is fine for the church to allow its priests to pick and choose or for the church itself to pick and choose who it offers its services to).

    As long as religious marriages are not a public service, but an add-on to a civil procedure, or an extra option for religious people, then the churches should be allowed to decide how they respect their conscience (and in effect continue to be the prejudiced intolerant patriarchal entities that many people, religious and secular, believe them to be). It is their bed, they can make it and sleep in it as they wish.

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