On 4 February, the Scottish Parliament voted to pass the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, in a free vote, by the large majority of 105 votes for, to 18 against.
The Equality Network believes that couples who love each other should have the opportunity to commit to each other in marriage, regardless of their genders. We appreciate that this view of marriage is not shared by all, and in particular is not shared by all religious leaders.
The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey does however indicate that it is the clear majority view in Scotland, including amongst Scotland’s Catholics, who the survey found support same-sex marriage by 55 per cent in favour to 21 per cent against.
Scotland’s equal marriage bill does something else that is very important: it protects and increases religious freedom, by giving each religious body the freedom to choose whether or not to conduct same-sex marriages.
Some, like the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews, have long campaigned for same-sex marriage, and will choose to solemnise marriages between same-sex couples. Others, including the Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland and Scotland’s imams do not agree with or accept same-sex marriage, and will continue to conduct marriages on the same terms as previously. That is rightly their decision to make.
Concerns have been raised by the Church over the past couple of years that the legislation will stifle free speech and that people will be discriminated against if they speak out against same-sex marriage. In fact there has been a very public and free debate on the bill, with the Church speaking out strongly against it.
John Deighan was mistaken, in his blog, about the consequences for people who oppose same-sex marriage. No one seeking to adopt or foster has been turned away because they disagree with same-sex marriage, nor will they be. John wrote that a volunteer police chaplain, Revd Brian Ross, was sacked by Strathclyde Police because he spoke out. If that were true, the Equality Network would have challenged the police for doing so. But Strathclyde Police have categorically stated in public, and to us when we enquired about this, that Mr Ross was asked to step down for entirely different reasons.
Scotland can be proud of the way this debate has been conducted. The Equality Network strongly believes in polite and respectful dialogue, and that has been our approach throughout, and that of most organisations and people on both sides of the debate. Regrettably, and again on both sides, there have been a small number of less polite contributions. It is up to the rest of us to discourage those, and to lead by example.
We hope that the divisions and discomfort of this debate will be healed by a respectful approach to continuing to live together in a diverse nation. We look forward to diverse communities, including of different religious belief, gender identity and sexual orientation, flourishing in the Scotland we all share.
Tim Hopkins is the director of the Edinburgh-based Equality Network which works for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality and human rights in Scotland