EDINBURGH, Scotland -- The Scottish government decided today to advance legislation that would allow marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.
To soothe opposition by religious leaders in the heavily Catholic nation, the government said the legislation would include crucial protections that would ensure freedom of speech and religion.
The Roman Catholic Church of Scotland, the dominant denomination, is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and Cardinal Keith O'Brien has been the most vocal opponent of equality. The proposed law would not require churches to conduct same-sex weddings.
Heads of Scotland's leading political parties, though, have begun lining up in support of equality.
If passed, as expected, Scotland will become the 12th nation to legalize marriage equality and the first in the United Kingdom.
A public consultation, conducted in December 2011, drew 80,000 responses.
Here is the statement issued today by the Scottish government:
The Scottish Government intend to legislate to allow same sex marriage, it was announced today.
However, legislation will be accompanied by important protections for freedom of speech and religion.
As indicated in the consultation, no religious body will be compelled to conduct same sex marriages - protection for religious bodies who do not wish to conduct same sex marriages already exists under UK equality law.
Where a body does decide to conduct same sex marriages, the Scottish Government also intends - again, in line with the view expressed in the consultation - to protect individual celebrants who consider such ceremonies to be contrary to their faith.
To give certainty around this protection, we consider that an amendment to the UK Equality Act will be required. We will work with the UK Government to secure agreement to such an amendment before the formal introduction of a Bill to the Scottish Parliament and with a view to it being in place before the Bill comes into force.
A focused consultation with stakeholders will now take place to inform the drafting of legislation and guidance. It will consider any additional
measures that may be required to guarantee freedom of speech and religion in specific circumstances, including education.
As indicated in the consultation, a draft Bill will be published for consultation later in the year.
Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said:
"The Scottish Government understands and respects the fact that there are very deeply held views in Scotland both for and against same sex marriage and, in coming to our decision, we have had to carefully consider a number of different factors.
"We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe that this is the right thing to do.
"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.
"However, we are also deeply committed to freedom of speech and religion. The concerns of those who do not favour same sex marriage require to be properly addressed. It is therefore right that the next step in this process will be to consult stakeholders on any provisions that may be required, in either statute or guidance, to protect these important principles and address specific concerns that have been expressed.
"The Scottish Government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws.
"However, our view is that to give certainty on protection for individual celebrants taking a different view from a religious body that does agree to conduct same sex marriages, an amendment will be required to the UK Equality Act. We will work with the UK Government to secure agreement to such an amendment before the formal introduction of a Bill to Parliament, with a view to it being in place before the legislation comes into force.
"A range of other concerns have also been expressed and we will take the opportunity to discuss with stakeholders what additional protections should be included, either in the legislation itself or in guidance, to address these.
"This will include consideration of any provisions that may be required to protect religious beliefs of teachers and parents in schools.
"We also intend to protect the current situation whereby the faith content of the curriculum in Catholic denominational schools is determined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.
"Scotland is by no means the first and will not be the last country to legalise same sex marriage. However, as we proceed towards legislation, our overriding concern will be to respect the variety of views that exist on this issue and do whatever we can to address those concerns that have been expressed, while ensuring that Scotland lives up to its aspiration to be an equal and tolerant society."
Schedule 23 to the Equality Act 2010 already has exemptions from equality requirements where these are necessary to comply with the doctrine of the organisation or to avoid conflict with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the followers of the religion or belief.
Analysis of the consultation on the issue was also published today.
The analysis shows that:
A total of 77,508 responses to the consultation were received. All comments made were read and analysed.
In relation to the main question on same sex marriage (Q10), 62,057 or 81 per cent of responses were submitted by people living in Scotland. The responses from Scotland were:
- Standard responses, postcards and petitions: 36 per cent of respondents were in favour of same sex marriage and 64 per cent were against.
- Standard responses only: 65 per cent of Scottish respondents were in favour of same sex marriage and 35 per cent were against.
In relation to the same question, 14,779 responses were received from outwith Scotland.
- Standard responses, postcards and petitions from Scotland and other countries: 32 per cent of respondents were in favour of same sex marriage and 67 were against.
- Standard responses only, from Scotland and other countries: 49 per cent of respondents were in favour of same sex marriage and 50 per cent were against.
The analysis concludes:
Many respondents made their strength of feeling about both religious civil partnership and same sex marriage very clear. Few respondents had mixed or nuanced views on the subject, with the majority coming down firmly on one side of the argument or the other - in other words wanting to see both religious civil partnership and same sex marriage introduced, or wanting neither brought in.
It was when considering whether any legislation should allow rather than require religious bodies to be involved that consensus did emerge and there were very few respondents who considered that religious bodies or celebrants should be required to undertake ceremonies which they were not comfortable with. Although approaching the basic proposals from very different starting points 93 per cent of respondents agreed that individual religious celebrants should not be required to solemnise same sex marriage.
1 Not all respondents answered Q10.
2 "Standard responses" here includes amended and unamended consultation
forms, and prepared letters