Scottish Government launches equal marriage law

Besi Besemar December 13, 2012

Scotland has become the first part of the United Kingdom to publish legislation to allow same-sex marriage. Yesterday the Scottish Government launched the ‘Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill’  alongside a 14-week consultation on its implementation. Following the consultation the Government is expected to introduce the Bill into the Scottish Parliament by Summer 2013, meaning the first same-sex marriages in the UK could take place in Scotland in 2014.

The draft legislation includes provisions to:

• Allow same-sex marriage in Scotland
• Give all religious and belief bodies the right to conduct same-sex marriages, if they wish to do so
• Remove the requirement on a married or civil partnered transgender person to divorce before obtaining full Gender Recognition
• Introduce religious and belief ceremonies for civil partnerships
• Allow civil marriages to take place anywhere a couple and their registrar choose

The consultation will focus on the detail of the draft bill and provisions relating to religious bodies and celebrants, freedom of speech, education and employment.

The publication of the Bill was welcomed by the Equality Network, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality charity that has fronted the Equal Marriage campaign in Scotland.

Tom French

Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Equality Network, said:

“Today Scotland has taken a huge step forward towards full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We welcome the draft equal marriage bill, wholeheartedly agree with the proposals and look forward to engaging in the consultation on its implementation. This is a simple matter of equality and religious freedom. LGBT people deserve equal rights under the law including the right to get married to the person they love. Equally religious bodies should have the freedom to choose for themselves whether to conduct same-sex marriages, currently all religious bodies are wrongly banned from doing so regardless of their beliefs. These proposals are fair and progressive, and as a result we expect the final legislation to get the backing of a clear majority in Parliament.”

James Morton, Coordinator of Scottish Transgender Alliance, said:

“We are delighted that the draft bill extends marriage to couples regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The true test of this legislation will be in whether it removes the inhumane requirement to divorce for all transgender couples living in Scotland, whether they were married here or anywhere else in the world.”

The publication of draft legislation has been welcomed by same-sex couples and by religious and humanist celebrants.

Religious and belief bodies that actively want the right to conduct same-sex marriages include the United Reformed Church, the Unitarians, the Quakers, Liberal Judaism, Reform Judaism, Buddhists, the Pagan Federation, the Open Episcopal Church, the Humanists, the Iona Community, the Metropolitan Community Church, One Spirit Interfaith Foundation, Ekklesia, the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (LGBT Hindus), SARBAT (LGBT Sikhs), the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Affirmation Scotland (Church of Scotland), CourageSCOTLAND (Evangelical Christian Network), Changing Attitude Scotland (Scottish Episcopal Church), OneKirk (Church of Scotland), and the Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship, amongst others.

MSPs from across the political parties have welcomed the draft legislation.

Two-thirds of MSPs have now signed the Equality Network’s ‘Equal Marriage Pledge’ committing themselves to voting in favour of same-sex marriage. Signatories include First Minister Alex Salmond, all Cabinet Ministers, and the leaders of all four opposition parties. Whilst 88 MSPs have now said they will vote in favour, just 10 remain publicly opposed. The broad cross-party support for same-sex marriage at Holyrood is in sharp contrast to the political situation at Westminster, where over 100 Conservative MPs have indicated they intend to vote against any change in the law for England and Wales.

Alex Neil MSP, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, said:

“We are introducing same sex marriage in Scotland because it is the right thing to do. We are striving to create a Scotland that is free, tolerant and fair and I am pleased to say there is support across the chamber for this significant step. I am absolutely clear that this should not impact on religious freedom and no religious body will be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages.  Religious bodies who wish to solemnise same-sex marriage will have to opt in. Where a body does decide to solemnise same sex marriages, we will also protect individual celebrants who consider such ceremonies to be contrary to their faith.”

Opinion polls have shown consistent public support for same-sex marriage across Scotland. The most recent poll in Scotland was conducted in June by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Equality Network. It showed record support with 64% of Scots in favour of a change in the law, and just 26% opposed. Separate polls conducted over the past two years by Populus, YouGov, Angus Reid, and the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, have all shown similar levels of support.

Most countries around Scotland already have same-sex marriage, including Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. The French Government have pledged to bring forward legislation soon.