Today the Scottish Government launched its consultation on same-sex marriage and I am pleased to see that it now “tends towards the view that same sex marriage should be introduced but believes that faith groups and their celebrants should not be obliged to solemnise same sex marriages.” This is actually a stronger position than the SNP had in May when, like Labour and the Tories, the issue of same-sex marriage was not included in its manifesto. Only the Scottish Liberal Demorats and the Scottish Green Party had the introduction of same-sex marriage as manifesto commitments. Hopefully this consultation will result in a same-sex marriages being allowed by 2013.
This is despite the actions of John Mason and the comments of John Walker. Both new SNP MSPs, elected in May, have caused controversy by voicing concerns about the idea of same-sex marriage. Firstly, John Mason submitted this motion:
S4M-00586 John Mason: The Equal Marriage Debate—That the Parliament notes the current discussion about same-sex marriages and the Scottish Government’s forthcoming public consultation concerning equal marriage; further notes that, while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them; desires that Scotland should be a pluralistic society where all minorities can live together in peace and mutual tolerance; believes that free speech is a fundamental right and that even when there is disagreement with another person’s views, that person has the right to express these views, and considers that no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages.
As you can see it is clear that John Mason clearly mis-understood what recent campaigns about same-sex marriage have been about. The issue is one of equality rather than forcing certain views on people or institutions. At best the motion was remarkably ill-advised and at worst revealed an unsavoury point of view. However, one of the supporters of the motion has most certain revealed his homophobic beliefs. Bill Walker, the new MSP for Dunfermline, stated that “anything that puts homosexual relationships as any way equal to male-female marriages is just not right“. For a man elected in Scotland in 2011 that is a remarkable statement to make.
When John Mason submitted the motion it was initially supported by MSPs Dennis Robertson, Gil Paterson, Richard Lyle, Mike MacKenzie as well as Bill Walker (all SNP). Following the uproar about the motion Gil Paterson, Richard Lyle and Mike MacKenzie withdrew their support for the motion. In fact, Gil Paterson now supports an excellent amendment by Scottish Green Party leader Patrick Harvie (so good that it needs a full viewing). The amendent motion looks like this:
That the Parliament notes the current discussion about same-sex marriages and the Scottish Government’s forthcoming public consultation concerning equal marriage; further notes that, while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them; considers that the balance between these views has changed substantially over recent decades, with the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showing 53% in agreement with equal marriage and only 21% in disagreement, and a poll in 2010 showing 58% support with only 19% against; congratulates the Scottish Youth Parliament on the launch of its Love Equally campaign for equal marriage and civil partnership, a campaign that it voted to select after consulting over 42,000 young people across Scotland; believes that the Scottish Government is recognising this shift in public attitudes with its forthcoming consultation on equal marriage; considers that allowing same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnerships would in no way undermine the rights and freedoms of those who do not wish to participate in them, and further believes that it would be both right and popular for secular and religious Scots alike to be free to reach their own view on the legal status that is right for their own relationship instead of being banned by law from having their relationships recognised on equal terms.”
Same-sex marriage is about equality as well as religious freedom not one or the other. There are religions in Scotland who want to be able to perform marriages for gay couples but are prevented from doing so by that law as it stands. This should change and, as with other policy areas like smoking bans, Scotland is leading the UK on this.
The full consultation can be found here.