(Editor’s note: Dan Littauer is Executive Editor of Gay Middle East and covered this event for San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.)
EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Scotland is likely to have full marriage equality by the end of 2013, at the latest.
Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, spoke to SDGLN at a reception in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday evening.
About 400 people attended the reception after all opposition party leaders signed up to the Equal Marriage Pledge.
The Scottish government, led by the Scottish National Party, concluded public consultation on equal marriage on Dec. 9. It was the government’s largest ever public consultation, with over 50,000 responses.
It will now analyze the feedback and publish their response this spring along with a draft bill, which will be open for expert consultation and voting by mid-2013, expected to pass as law by the end of 2013.
“This is the last piece of devolved legislation in Scotland that needs to be changed to introduce full equality for LGBT people in the law,” Hopkins declared.
This is in contrast to England and Wales, where the consultation process will only start in March this year.
Westminster “might move ahead at the same time scale as in Scotland, but if it doesn’t, the fact that it goes here will help campaigners in the rest of the UK,” Hopkins speculated.
Speaking with SDGLN, out bisexual Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Patrick Harvie, leader of the Green Party, stated: “This is a real opportunity to shift the argument not just here but in the rest of the UK. If we are to move on this quickly Westminster will be prompted to move on this issue faster.”
Opinion polls suggest a majority of Scots support equal marriage, including the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010 which indicated 61% support versus 19% opposition. This included a majority of respondents following all the major faiths and political parties in Scotland.
The reception, the biggest since the parliament was established, was hosted by leading MSPs from all five parties and was attended by guests including leading politicians, faith leaders, same-sex couples, trade unionists, and youth and student representatives.
“Our consultation showed that young people (16-25 years old) in Scotland overwhelmingly support marriage equality, the figures were 74%. Young people insist that full equality is right for Scotland, it is the future for this country and ourselves,” Rae Cahill MSYP, deputy chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, told SDGLN.
Out gay MSP Joe FitzPatrick, member of the SNP, said: “This is not just about marriage, its about equality, its about the Scotland we want people to live in. I want to live in Scotland that treats everyone in respect. We can be a beacon of progressive policy.”
Hopkins continued that theme.
“This is a broad campaign supported across the country. There are many religious groups, the Unitarian Church, the Quakers, the Humanists (who conduct the second largest amount of marriages after the Church of Scotland) and many others in Scotland who unanimously support same-sex marriage," Hopkins said.
“Many religious groups who want to conduct same-sex marriage should be to have the freedom to do so. Equality means equality, marriage should also be a religious ceremony.”
Joan Cook (pictured middle left) of the Unitarian Church said her faith was supportive.
“The Unitarians do not discriminate in any way LGBT people, many of our Ministers and office bearers are openly members of the LGBT community, including our current President, the Rev. Dr. Ann Peart," Cook said.
“We have been conducting same-sex blessings, in our churches and elsewhere, for decades now, and look forward to solemnising same-sex marriages.”
Rabbi Mark L. Solomon (pictured bottom left), from Liberal Judaism, also backs the movement.
“It isn’t just that if we as LGBT people are equal in the full real sense, our life will get better. We know that, we feel it deeply," Solomon said.
“But now we see marriage as a free and loving mutual commitment between equals, marriage has got better and we want to make it better still.
“It was feminism that set me free to come out as a gay man. I always believed that gay rights are the logical ethical offspring of women’s rights. And now the possibility that we can encourage two women or two men to be married, would mean not only that we are truly equal but the marriage itself is a relationship of true and full equality,” the rabbi said.
The question of marriage equality will also affect transgender people.
Pietà and Susie Schofield (pictured top left), married as a husband and wife for over 25 years with three children, have been hitting a brick wall due to marriage inequality.
Pietà, a transgender woman, and Susie were told that if they wished to have their relationship recognized by law as between two women, they would have to divorce and go through a civil partnership.
With the introduction of marriage equality, they would simply be able to continue their marriage as a same-sex couple.
“Right now, a transgender man can marry a woman legally, so marriage equality will not merely solve our problem but also end inequality for all transgender people,” they explained.
Hopkins said the time is now.
“We can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen," he said. "There are strong bodies campaigning against marriage equality, including large religious bodies who have the ears of the media and a lot more funds than we have. It is really important for everybody to continue campaigning on this issue and state that there is majority support for equality across Scotland.”