The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill will make a number of changes to the law on marriage and civil partnership, but the centrepiece is obviously the legalisation of same-sex marriage, which will allow all people in Scotland who love each other the same opportunity to have their marriage recognised in the eyes of the law. That will create a more tolerant society in Scotland and will mean that there are genuine equal rights in respect of marriage across the entire community.
The bill makes provides that married transgender people will be able to obtain gender recognition and stay married, thereby removing the need to divorce. That provision will make a huge beneficial difference to the lives of transgender people and their spouses. I will turn later to the detail of the bill and, in particular, to the points that the Equal Opportunities Committee’s report raises.
Before doing so, I will give a brief general overview of the provisions in the bill. The bill contains a number of changes to marriage law that have been planned for some time, and some other changes to ensure that marriage ceremonies in Scotland continue to be carried out with due solemnity and dignity.
The bill also provides greater flexibility on where civil marriage ceremonies can take place; it will permit civil marriage ceremonies to take place at any location that is agreed between the couple and the registration authority, as long as that place is not religious premises.
The bill also clarifies the position of belief celebrants and puts them on the same footing as religious celebrants. That is a welcome change that acknowledges the role that humanists, for example, play in solemnising marriage in Scotland.
The bill will increase flexibility in relation to civil partnerships and will allow the religious or belief registration of civil partnership where the religious or belief body is happy to take part.
While providing greater freedom and flexibility for couples generally, the bill will also ensure that marriage procedures in Scotland remain rigorous. For example, the bill clarifies the offence of bigamy, and a number of other provisions in the bill show that we in Scotland will not tolerate sham or forced marriages, which are real problems in Scotland today, so I pay tribute to registrars and others across Scotland who are vigilant in tackling those issues.
The bill will extend the normal notice period for marriage and for civil partnership from 14 days to 28 days. That reflects the reality of the length of time it can take to check that a person is eligible to marry or to enter into a civil partnership. It will also be a deterrent to sham marriages. The bill will allow district registrars to require specified nationality evidence when a couple is seeking to enter into a marriage or a civil partnership. Such information may be needed for a variety of reasons, for example for statistical reasons. Again, requiring such evidence could combat sham and forced marriages.
The bill will also empower ministers to make regulations on qualifying requirements for religious and belief bodies to meet before their celebrants can be authorised to solemnise marriages or to register civil partnerships. Scotland has a rich diversity of religious and belief bodies that can solemnise marriage. That is very welcome, but it also means that we need to make certain that the dignity and solemnity of the ceremonies are upheld. The qualifying requirements could cover such issues as the requirement not to carry out ceremonies for profit or gain and the requirement to have an awareness of forced and sham marriages.
We will consult widely with religious and belief bodies and with others before we make any regulations. I know that religious and belief bodies share our determination to ensure that marriage ceremonies remain dignified. Equally, though, the state must not interfere with the internal workings of religious and belief bodies, so we need to ensure that a reasonable balance is struck.
What provisions are there in the bill to avoid situations in extremis that may occur when one party challenges the other, which could possibly force action that is contrary to article 9 of the European convention on human rights?
I will go into detail on such issues later when I discuss the recommendations from the Equal Opportunities Committee.
I have already referred to same-sex marriage. Respect for religious beliefs and views has also been at the heart of our work on same-sex marriage and we have consulted twice. We have not consulted more on any bill that has passed through Parliament than we have consulted on this measure.
We have found the submissions and we will put them on the website. As Alex Johnstone said, they were not lost through any fault of the Scottish Government. There was a technical hitch on the part of the people who submitted those 4,100 submissions.
I know that the detailed examination of the bill by the Equal Opportunities Committee has been challenging, so I pay tribute to all the members of the committee—in particular Margaret McCulloch and Mary Fee, who have been the two conveners of the committee during that period.
Throughout the consultations and the stage 1 process, the Government has acknowledged the diversity and strength of religious beliefs. In the foreword to the first consultation, my predecessor Nicola Sturgeon emphasised that
“This Government believes in religious tolerance and the freedom to worship.”
We recognise—although we disagree with them—that some people of faith sincerely believe that marriage should be between, and only between, one man and one woman. There is a vigorous and respectful debate on same-sex marriage in many religious bodies, as there is across society and in Parliament. Some religious and belief bodies wish to solemnise same-sex marriage, and the bill provides a balanced and fair package.
As the cabinet secretary knows, my wife and I adopted our daughter some 30 years ago. Would he agree with me that because my wife and I do not support same-sex marriage we would not be allowed to adopt today, or that questions would be asked of our suitability to adopt or even to foster? Where are the equal rights of people like us?
The cabinet secretary will know that a Roman Catholic adoption agency is currently having its charitable status threatened because it does not recognise same-sex couples. What guarantees can he give us that, if the bill is passed, faith groups and service providers that do not recognise same-sex marriage will not, similarly, have their charitable status in any way questioned?
That matter is currently under legal appeal. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that particular example. I am happy to clarify such matters more generally, either during tonight’s debate or by writing to Murdo Fraser.
The bill establishes an opt-in system for religious and belief bodies in relation to same-sex marriage and civil partnerships, and makes it clear that there is no duty to opt in. The bill will impose no duty on any person who is an approved celebrant to solemnise same-sex marriages or to register civil partnerships. In addition, the United Kingdom Equality Act 2010 will be amended to protect individual celebrants who refuse to solemnise same-sex marriage from court actions claiming discrimination. Same-sex marriage will not be introduced in Scotland until the amendment to the 2010 act has been secured—as I believe it will be. We have reached agreement with the UK Government about the amendment to the Equality Act 2010, and we have published a detailed statement on what is planned.
As we have indicated, the amendments that will be made will also cover other persons who play an integral part in the religious or belief aspects of the marriage or civil partnership ceremony. They will protect persons who control use of religious or belief premises and who refuse to allow those premises to be used for same-sex marriage or civil partnership ceremonies.
At present, the state dictates what the position of each religious denomination should be on the matter: it explicitly does not allow them to marry people of the same sex who wish to enter into a marriage. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me that the Government’s approach is to empower religions to make a decision and that, in that sense, it is about the freedom of religion?
Absolutely; a number of religious organisations and churches are very much in favour of the proposed legislation—the Quakers being a good example. Until now, they have not been allowed to carry out same-sex marriages, and they want to be allowed to do so.
We have carefully considered the need for wider protections across society as a whole. The issues are challenging ones, and we have to respect religious beliefs while ensuring that there is no discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities or individuals.
We need to avoid interfering with the employer-employee relationship. We need to balance parental rights in areas such as education with the right of the child to receive a full and comprehensive education. Therefore, the protections that we are introducing more generally are a mixture of legislation and guidance.
The bill has provision at section 14 that makes it clear that the introduction of same-sex marriage will have no impact on existing rights to freedom of speech, thought, conscience and religion. In addition, the Lord Advocate has issued prosecution guidance that makes it clear that
“criticism of same sex marriage or homosexuality is not in itself an offence”,
“Views expressed or comments made in relation to same sex marriage in ways which do not incite hatred or violence towards a particular person or group” of people
“and which do not cause or intend to cause public disorder will not be the subject of criminal prosecution.”
Moreover, the vigorous debate on same-sex marriage during our consultations and while the bill has been with Parliament shows that freedom of speech is very much alive and well.
I do not agree at all. The guidance is from the chief prosecutor to every prosecutor in Scotland. In my view, to say that it will have no impact is absolute nonsense. Of course it will have an impact—it says what will and will not be prosecuted in Scotland. I think that that is the right approach.
With regard to education, after seeking views on updating the guidance on the conduct of relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, we have received around 60 responses and are currently considering the points that have been made by those who have commented on the draft guidance. We have said that, where teachers have concerns about educational material that they might be asked to use, they should raise those concerns with the school or the local authority. We believe that to be the right local approach; after all, such detailed issues are best discussed and resolved at local level, rather than being dealt with through our trying to dictate from the centre. There is also existing guidance reflecting the professional standards that teachers have to meet when giving classes. Similarly, we have indicated that we are opposed to a legislative opt-out from same-sex marriage for civil registrars, and that any issues or concerns should be dealt with at local level by employers.
Turning to the Equal Opportunities Committee’s stage 1 report, I note that the committee has asked us to take account of stakeholders’ views on matters such as protection of celebrants. We will, of course, do that. That we have kept an open mind throughout the bill process is, I believe, shown by the balanced package that we have put forward.
As for the committee’s other recommendations, we will consider the point about the distinctions between religious marriage and belief marriage. As the committee noted, we considered those points following the second consultation, but coming up with designations that please everyone is not a straightforward matter. The committee has suggested that couples in a non-Scottish civil partnership should be able to change their relationship to a marriage in Scotland. Although we need to respect non-Scottish jurisdictions as well as to ensure that we do not cause confusion with regard to a couple’s civil status, we will consider in detail the point that the committee has raised.
We have also written to a number of religious bodies to seek their views on a change to gender-neutral marriage ceremonies. However, we have concerns about the committee’s recommendation on spousal consent. It is spousal consent to decide to stay in a marriage—and it takes two to stay in a marriage. As the committee has noted;
“spouses of people seeking gender recognition may find themselves in circumstances that are very difficult to face”.
That said, we will consider the point further with the aim of balancing everyone’s rights.
On long-term transitioned people, we will seek to lodge an amendment at stage 2 to introduce provisions similar to those that were added to the UK legislation in the House of Lords. Finally, we will respond in detail with regard to lowering the age at which applications can be made to the gender recognition panel. We need more medical and psychological evidence of the potential effect of any possible change, but I recognise the points that were made in evidence to the committee and acknowledge the need for the Government to give further thought to the issue.
In conclusion, I strongly urge my fellow MSPs to vote for a bill that will make sensible improvements to marriage and civil partnership law, that provides greater flexibility for couples who are seeking to get married or enter into a civil partnership, and which will introduce same-sex marriage, which will further promote equality and diversity in our society while respecting the views of those who do not wish to take part.
I believe that the bill’s provisions will improve our society in Scotland and make it much more civilised in its treatment of LGBT people. I look forward to the debate and ask my colleagues to support the bill’s general principles at the vote at 8 pm tonight. [Applause.]
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Equal Opportunities Committee, following our stage 1 report on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.
Before I introduce the report and speak about our conclusions, I extend my thanks to the clerks, all my committee colleagues and the members of the other committees that considered the bill—the Finance Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. I also thank everyone who responded to our call for written evidence and all those who took part in oral evidence sessions in September and October. All of us on the committee recognise the validity, strength and sincerity of the views that we received on this clearly emotive issue. I am personally grateful for the sensitive and respectful way in which those views were presented by witnesses and then considered by committee members. I hope that the wider debate about same-sex marriage will proceed in the same dignified way.
The committee noted the differing views that were expressed in evidence on the meaning and purpose of marriage. We considered evidence from faith groups and from LGBT people on the perceptions and understanding of marriage, and we heard from a number of witnesses about rights-based arguments and social attitudes.
No—I do not have time. I have a lot to get through on the report.
Some witnesses emphasised the concept of complementarity between men and women. The Catholic parliamentary office, on behalf of the Bishops Conference of Scotland, wrote:
“The complementarity of male and female, and their unique role in the transmission of life, underscores the reality of marriage as a natural social environment for the birth and growth of every person.”
John Deighan, from the Catholic parliamentary office, described complementarity as the “inherent essence” of and “rational basis” for marriage. However, John Phillips, who was representing the Religious Society of Friends—the Quakers—gave a different perspective. He said:
“For us, the crucial thing is the complementarity between two individuals who are making a committed relationship with each other”.—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 5 September 2013; c 1382.]
“Our view is that the bill is about love—and marriage is about love. I think if you ask most married couples what their marriage is about they will say that it is about love, a commitment to each other and, if they have children, their family. All those things apply to same-sex couples, as well.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 5 September 2013; c 1382.]
Colin Macfarlane, from Stonewall Scotland, says that the bill is
“about much more than the complementarity issue” and that it is
“about how gay people are viewed in society and about being equal in the eyes of the law.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 5 September; c 1382.]
Indeed, we gave a great deal of consideration to equal recognition, human rights and public attitudes. Dr Kelly Kollman highlighted to us the “transformative” power of rights-based arguments in the debate.
I am aware that many of the responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation did not favour the bill. That point was made to the committee in written and oral evidence from John Deighan. However, Ross Wright from the Humanist Society Scotland commented that a consultation “not a referendum”. Professor John Curtice, from the University of Strathclyde, advised that we
“should not look to consultations as a way of understanding the balance of public opinion”,
but that we should instead look to
“the structure of public opinion”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 19 September; c 1516.]
and technical issues with bills and proposals. There was a huge amount of diversity as well as depth in the views that we received, so I hope that the whole range of opinions is adequately reflected in the report.
The committee also noted varying views among stakeholders on the approach that the bill takes to protecting celebrants of faith, as well as the freedom of religious organisations to conduct legal marriages that are in keeping with their own doctrines. We heard differing views on the opt-in approach for religious and belief celebrants, on protections for service providers and on concerns about attrition. In our report, we asked the Scottish Government to consider that range of views during the amending stages of the bill.
Under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977, there are two types of marriage ceremony: civil and religious. Since 2005, humanist celebrants have been authorised under a provision of the 1997 act that was designed for temporary authorisation of religious celebrants. The bill would retain two categories, but would redefine non-civil marriage ceremonies as “religious or belief” ceremonies, to capture a wider range of beliefs and to put religious and belief celebrants on the same legal footing.
Ephraim Borowski of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities considers that there is a distinction between religious and belief ceremonies, and so believes that belief ceremonies should form a third category. The committee notes the Scottish Government’s explanation for why the bill retains two ceremony categories, but we have sought the Scottish Government’s views on an amendment to the bill.
The committee took a range of evidence on civil partnerships, including evidence on the difference between marriage and civil partnerships, the treatment in the bill of civil partnerships that have been registered abroad, and the future of civil partnerships in Scotland. We note that the Scottish Government plans to consider issues relating to reform of civil partnerships, including civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples, in its forthcoming review.
Should same-sex marriage be introduced, there would be a procedure for converting civil partnerships into marriage. We believe that couples who enter into civil partnerships abroad, who would have to dissolve their partnerships before marrying here, should have similar rights to that procedure as couples whose civil partnerships have been conducted in Scotland.
The committee noted the Scottish Government’s position that it has struck the right balance regarding gender-neutral ceremonies, and that allowing such ceremonies could cause problems for denominations that might not want to use gender-neutral marriage declarations. However, we believe that it should be possible to allow gender-neutral language, which is why we call on the Scottish Government to reconsider its position.
We note evidence that calls for the requirement for spousal consent to be removed from the gender recognition process. The spouses of people who seek gender recognition may find themselves in circumstances that are difficult to face and we have not received specific evidence from their perspective. However, we believe that the non-transitioning spouse’s personal choice is sufficiently protected by the automatic grounds for divorce that are triggered by his or her partner seeking gender recognition. We also believe that the requirement of spousal consent for gender recognition, also known as the spousal veto, is unnecessary and should be removed.
We have drawn two further conclusions regarding gender recognition issues that were raised in evidence. First, we have welcomed the Scottish Government’s willingness to consult on difficulties that are faced by long-term transitioned people, in particular around evidence requirements, with a view to amending the bill at stage 2. Secondly, we have noted representations that were made by the Scottish Transgender Alliance about lowering the age at which a person can secure gender recognition. We accept that it may not be possible to deal with those issues effectively in the bill, but I feel nonetheless that it is important to highlight them to Parliament.
The committee took evidence on how the bill could impact on other areas of life, including the education system and chaplaincy in public services. We heard from John Brown, from the Scottish Catholic Education Service, and Michael Calwell, from the Family Education Trust, who spoke about the conflict between different views of marriage and the implications that they fear it could have for teaching in schools. However, when asked whether the bill would have an impact on how teachers teach in the classroom, Stephen McCrossan of the Educational Institute of Scotland said:
“I do not think that the bill will have a significant impact on the way in which teachers teach in the classroom. We simply see the bill as another strand in equality and diversity, promoting equal opportunities and challenging discrimination.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 26 September 2013; c 1534.]
On behalf of the committee, I draw Parliament’s attention to the views that were expressed regarding the relationship between the bill and public services, and to the recommendations that were made by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which we note and support.
To paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson, we agree to differ, for agreeing to differ is a form of agreement, rather than a form of difference. The majority of the committee supports the general principles of the bill and recommends that Parliament approve the bill at stage 1. A minority of the committee does not support the bill. Those members either disagree in principle or are not convinced that adequate protections are in place. However, we are unanimous in supporting the right of individual members to decide on the bill as a matter of conscience.
On a personal note, I know what my conscience tells me; I associate myself with the majority view that is expressed in the report. I back the general principles of the bill and I hope that there is a majority in favour of equal marriage when we vote at decision time tonight.
I am pleased to participate in this stage 1 debate on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. At the outset, I commend the Scottish Government unreservedly—not something that I do terribly often—for its work on the bill. I also commend the members and clerks of the Equal Opportunities Committee for their diligence in scrutinising the bill at stage 1. I associate myself with the cabinet secretary’s remarks about Mary Fee, the former convener of the committee, and Margaret McCulloch, the current convener.
Undoubtedly, there has been a volume of evidence in favour of and against the bill, and the committee’s stage 1 report is a comprehensive record of that evidence and the process of the committee’s consideration. The report notes that the majority of the committee supports the general principles of the bill, but the convener was right to remind us that the decision will be a matter for individual members, as I believe that all parties have agreed that there will be a free vote. Ultimately, it is a matter for each of us in the Parliament.
I therefore recommend that all members read the stage 1 report. I know that it is long, but it helpfully sets out the arguments and, where there are concerns, the scope for amendments. I will come on to consider some of those concerns. For me, though, the bill is about equality, fairness, social justice and the values that were instilled in me by my parents, my community and society. For many of us, the bill is also about how we see ourselves as a nation and how others see us. It is about the values that we hold and whether Scotland is indeed a confident progressive nation where equality is truly valued.
Most members will have received a considerable volume of correspondence on equal marriage, both for and against. Many of the arguments are detailed and the views are passionately held. Some members even received emails as we were walking into the chamber, never mind late last night. I thank people for giving their time and energy to inform the debate.
It is true that attitudes in Scotland are changing. The Scottish social attitudes survey in 2002 showed that 41 per cent of people were in favour of same-sex marriage and 19 per cent were against. In the same social attitudes survey, but this time in 2010, the proportion of people who were in favour of same-sex marriage had risen to 61 per cent. A shift of 20 per cent in opinion on any issue in such a short space of time is, frankly, astonishing. If we begin to unpack the detail, we find that support for equal marriage can be found in those who are religious, in people from across all income groups and all geographic areas of Scotland. The support cuts right across our country and right across our society.
In the survey, 55 per cent of those who identified themselves as Catholic supported same-sex marriage and 21 per cent were opposed. Among Scottish Presbyterians, 50 per cent supported same-sex marriage and 25 per cent were against. Of those living in the most deprived areas, 67 per cent support same-sex marriage, while the figure for those who live in the most affluent areas is 63 per cent. Frankly, it makes no difference whether someone lives in urban or rural Scotland, because support for same-sex marriage is roughly the same and consistently above 60 per cent. There is no doubt about current public attitudes.
I read with much interest the evidence to the committee from Professor John Curtice, whom many members will know better for inhabiting television studios in the wee small hours of the morning, sharing his wisdom on elections and voting behaviour. He described to the committee a cultural shift in Britain over the past 30 years. According to Professor Curtice, in 1983, 62 per cent of the population believed that same-sex relationships were mostly or always wrong. That figure has dropped to 28 per cent, which is quite extraordinary. His explanation for that shift is that it is young people who increasingly support same-sex marriage. The Equality Network backs that up and tells us that support for same-sex marriage is highest among those who are under 55. I, like many in this chamber, take it as a compliment that being under 55 is still considered to be young. Joking apart, there is robust and credible evidence of changing views in our society and support for equal marriage.
It is also useful to consider what has happened in other countries that have legislated for same-sex marriage. In Europe, since 2001, we have seen the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, France, and, most recently, England and Wales, provide equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. In Canada, South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, Uruguay, Brazil and 17 states in America, equal marriage is the norm.
I know Portugal quite well. Like Christian Allard, one of my parents was Portuguese. Eighty one per cent of Portugal’s population describe themselves as Catholics, which is a huge proportion of any country and is, without doubt, a significant number. In 2009, Portugal passed its law to allow same-sex marriage. There is no doubt that that was hotly contested, and it was passed to the constitutional courts for review. In 2010, those same courts said that the law was perfectly legal and the then president, Cavaco Silva, signed it off and there have been same-sex marriages ever since.
Interestingly, when I asked one Portuguese friend, who is quite religious, about the legislation he said, “It is about love. There should be no difference whether it is a man or a woman or they are the same sex; it is whether they love each other that really matters.”
When the Parliament passed a law on civil partnerships, we took a huge step forward. Same-sex couples had the legal rights associated with marriage. However, I recognise that that, for some, falls far short of marriage in which their love and commitment is fully recognised. The Equality Network talks about a gold standard; for me, it is a matter of equality and fairness.
For a host of reasons, I believe that equal marriage is an idea whose time has come and I will support the general principles of the bill. That said, very few in this chamber are deaf to the concerns that have been raised. The principal area of concern appears to relate to the protections put in place by the Scottish Government. It is the case that no religious or belief body can be forced to perform a same-sex marriage. It is also the case that celebrants will not be forced to perform a same-sex marriage if it is against their beliefs. I agree. Those are matters of doctrine and belief that are properly for the church and not the state.
I am never keen to give up time to the member, but I am glad that we are in agreement.
I welcome that point because it is important. However, I acknowledge that some people are concerned that even those protections might be challenged in the courts. I therefore very much welcome the arrangement between the Scottish and UK Governments to amend the UK Equality Act 2010. The 2010 act contains provisions about not discriminating when providing a service, with exemptions for religious and belief bodies that apply in certain circumstances. The Scottish Government has rightly sought the protection to be more comprehensive by asking for a further amendment that would help to allay fears about challenges being brought on grounds of discrimination. It is helpful that an agreement has been reached with the UK Government on that point.
Concerns have also been expressed about whether it would affect someone’s employment if they held views that were opposed to same-sex marriage. The example most often cited is that teachers would be somehow forced out of their job if they refused to teach about same-sex marriage because they were fundamentally opposed to it. I think that we all acknowledge that teachers deal with difficult situations every day in schools. In the main, they do so sensitively—they balance their beliefs with the needs of the child or children before them. It would be wrong to put something in the bill when education circulars and guidance have served us extremely well in the past.
Existing legislative provision allows parents to withdraw their children from religious education. Existing guidance allows parents to withdraw their children from sexual health education. I welcome the Scottish Government’s proposal to update that guidance to reflect the introduction of same-sex marriage. Faith aspects of the curriculum in Catholic schools will continue to be a matter for the Scottish Catholic Education Service. However, it is important for the Scottish Government to review any suggested impact on education, to make doubly sure of the position. Like many other members, I have received thoughtful letters from teachers who support the proposal and teachers who are concerned about how to deal with same-sex marriage, so updated guidance will undoubtedly be helpful.
I have no doubt that amendments will be lodged with the aim of respecting the right of those who, as a result of their religious beliefs, take the traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Concerns have also been highlighted about freedom of speech. I note that the Lord Advocate has published guidance on the matter, which refers to provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, along with freedom of expression. However, concerns remain. It is right for the Parliament to explore the subject again and ensure that the arrangements are robust.
The committee has also asked the Scottish Government to look again at the gender recognition provisions in the bill and at policy areas such as gender-neutral language and spousal consent for gender recognition. I have not had time to explore in detail all the issues that the committee raised but, Presiding Officer, you will have the fortune—or misfortune, depending on your view—to hear from me again in the closing speeches.
I hope that members will support the bill’s general principles at decision time. We and the Scottish Government have work to do to improve the bill and make it more robust. We must have adequate protections that genuinely address people’s concerns, but it is time for change. It is time to support equal marriage.
The debate is not easy and it was never going to be. When areas of love meet the law and when belief, commitment and faith collide with legislation, the waters will always be difficult to navigate. I therefore commend all the contributors to the debate in the past months and years who have sought to make thoughtful comments, to elevate the ideas and to temper the language. People have displayed a respect for beliefs that differ from their own and have recognised that those beliefs are just as sincerely held. I hope that that temperance will continue this evening, to demonstrate that, although this may be a fledgling Parliament, it has maturity.
It is precisely because of the nature of the debate that I believe that the bill is a matter of conscience. That is why, like members of other parties, Scottish Conservative members have been given a free vote.
Today, I speak on behalf of only myself. I have no doubt that this could be the most personal speech that I will ever make in the chamber. I hope to explain why I support the broadest principle of the bill—the principle of extending marriage.
I believe in that principle because I believe in marriage. I believe that marriage is a good thing. I saw the evidence of that every day growing up in a house that was full of love. My family had the stresses and strains that are common to all, but there was never any doubt, question or fear in my mind that our togetherness was in any way insecure.
The bedrock of that stability and security was my parents’ marriage. That stability helped me and my sister to flourish and have confidence that we could be whoever we wanted to be. After more than 40 years of marriage, my parents still love each other. I look at what they have and I want that too, and I want it to be recognised in the same way. That recognition matters.
Presiding Officer, from childhood, you have known without even thinking that if you found someone you loved and who loved you in return, you would have the right to marry them. The same unthinking right to marry extends to the cabinet secretary, the Labour Party leader and the Liberal Democrat leader. I want that right to extend to not just me but the thousands of people across Scotland who are told that the law says no and that they cannot marry the love of their life. They are not allowed and, unless we change the law, they will never be allowed.
It does matter. It matters that a whole section of our society is told that they can have the facsimile of civil partnership but they cannot have the real thing. It is not for them. Their love is something different and something less. Their commitment is denied.
I do not want the next generation of young gay people to grow up as I did, believing that marriage is something that they can never have. With this bill, we have the opportunity to change that, and to change the attitudes and stigma that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can still evoke, and that can cause so much harm.
I thank Ruth Davidson for giving way during her very eloquent contribution; I am enjoying it very much. She spoke about the next generation. I am the father of two very young children. I do not know what their sexual orientation will be, but if they grow up and have a same-sex attraction, and if the Parliament fails to pass the proposed legislation that is before us today, what would the member suggest that I should say to them in future if they want to be married? How does she think that I could look them in the face and say that this Parliament missed the opportunity to give them that right?
I would hope that their father would have helped to vote them that opportunity. Talking about the next generation is important because it is those people we must think about.
Last year, the University of Cambridge conducted a huge body of research called “The School Report”. The researchers spoke to hundreds of LGBT pupils from across the UK who were open about their sexuality. The majority said that they were the victims of homophobic bullying and that it happened to them in their schools. More than half of the respondents deliberately self-harmed. Nearly a quarter had attempted to take their own life on at least one occasion.
These are our children and they are made to feel so much guilt, shame and despair. We have an opportunity today to make it better for them. At the moment, we tell these young people, “You are good enough to serve in our armed forces. You are good enough to care in our hospitals. You are good enough to teach in our schools. But you are not good enough to marry the person you love and who loves you in return.” We tell them that they are something different, something less, something other, and that the dream and gold standard of marriage does not apply to them. They do not get to have it. That apartheid message, that “same but different” or alien quality, and that otherness is reflected in every hurtful comment, slander, exclusion and abuse, whether it takes place in the school playground, on the factory floor, or in the local pub.
That is why the bill matters to those people who will directly benefit from it, such as those couples who are eager to commit their relationship in marriage and who should be allowed to do so. More than that, it matters to the future nature of our country. We have an opportunity today to tell our nation’s children that, no matter where they live and no matter who they love, there is nothing that they cannot do. We will wipe away the last legal barrier that says that they are something less than their peers. We can help them to walk taller into the playground tomorrow and to face their accuser down knowing that the Parliament of their country has stood up for them and said that they are every bit as good as every one of their classmates. They will know that their Parliament has said that they deserve the same rights as everyone else.
I believe in marriage. I believe that it is a good thing and something to be celebrated, and I want everyone in Scotland to know that marriage is important to them. I support the principles of this bill.
The Presiding Officer:
We now move to the open debate. I have 20 members who wish to take part in the debate. I am absolutely determined that those who have already indicated their wish to take part will be heard. The debate is unique because it is a free vote and I want as many voices as possible to be heard. To allow everyone to get in who has already indicated that they wish to speak, I can allow the first number of speakers to have six minutes, and thereafter, speeches will be five minutes. The Presiding Officer will tell you when that change occurs.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I apologise for not noticing earlier that we were running slightly ahead of schedule.
As is becoming clear to everyone, the bill that we are debating is different from the bills about which we debate policy or the intricacies of law. Speaking personally, as Ruth Davidson did, I can only feel that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill is much more immediate and more fundamental, and that it deals with the question of my civil rights. After consideration, I concluded that my remarks, too, ought to reflect that.
It will not come as a surprise to anyone that, when I was young and my classmates started to notice girls, I started to notice boys. I was afraid. I looked at our society and I did not see myself looking back, whether in our institutions, such as marriage, in what was regarded in public debate at the time as good and moral, or even in how our society portrayed itself in fiction, in which any representation of same-sex attraction made the subject matter adult, to be ranked alongside pornography and violence. When all that I saw or knew of gay people was Julian Clary, Kenneth Williams or Graham Norton, I—a boy from a chip shop in Dunbartonshire—did not see myself. I could only conclude that I was different from normal and that what I was was less deserving as a result.
Today, this chamber can add a new tile to the great interlocking mosaic of our society that has been built up steadily, one piece at a time, since the Wolfenden report of 1957. Same-sex marriage will not be the last piece to be added to that mosaic. The bill is not the finished article, not least for the transgendered, but today we can further build a picture of our society that generations of young people to come can look at and see themselves in. People of faith, whether gay or straight, must see themselves in that image, too, because it would be perverse to expand the freedom to express sexuality only at the cost of the freedom to practise faith. Both are fundamental cornerstones of a humane society, and the dichotomy between them is a false one.
Amending UK equality laws puts beyond doubt any concern that churches could be forced to hold same-sex marriages by domestic law. Anyone can speculate about hypothetical European challenges, but the ECHR includes specific protection for freedom of religious practice. I quote:
“There would ... be a quite a hurdle and a strong protection under article 9 if churches can prove that they are not part of the state.”
Those are not my words, but those of Aidan O’Neill QC, when, as legal adviser to the campaign against the bill, he gave evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee. If the Kirk is not classed as a department of state, which faith would be? The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Karon Monaghan, who is a human rights law specialist, formed part of the consensus that the protections were strong and that the freedom of religion was genuine.
However, we do not have to speculate. Nine countries in Europe have already legalised same-sex marriage and not one has seen churches being forced to hold such marriages. That fact was confirmed to the Equal Opportunities Committee not once, not twice, but three times over by different witnesses.
Above all, we must not be drawn by the remote and hypothetical challenge to religious freedom to such an extent that we overlook the very tangible, very real and very much on-going violation of personal freedom that is the exclusion of people of same-sex attraction from expressing their love through marriage, which is the institution that our society considers to be the paragon of commitment.
Civil partnerships were a welcome step, but they remind me of the ladies degrees that were offered before women were admitted to Scotland’s universities on an equal footing for the first time in 1892. Those degrees were progressive for their time—they opened the door—but who today would argue that a women-only degree was a substitute for allowing women to study on the same terms as men? Civil partnerships are “separate but equal”, which is always separate and never equal. They are not enough.
If we were to surprise everyone and to vote down the bill today, who would we be to continue to infringe the freedom of those progressive faiths such as Scotland’s Quakers and Scotland’s Unitarians that sincerely consider same-sex ceremonies to be part of their understanding of what marriage is and should be?
Is the member aware that last month marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of a book called “Towards a Quaker View of Sex”? That book said:
“Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters: one must not judge it by its outward appearance but by its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse.”
Does the member agree that that conclusion, which was unprecedented for its time, is still significantly more advanced and progressive than some of the views that some people have expressed during the debate on the bill?
I very much agree with the sentiment that was expressed, although I speak up for Unitarians, who have also been performing same-sex blessings since the 1950s. There is plenty of progress all round.
If we were to vote down the bill, who would we be to say that the understanding of the sacrament of marriage held by other faiths that do not share that view should be allowed and the views of the Quakers and Unitarians should be forbidden unless we somehow believed that same-sex relationships were intrinsically different, wrong and worthy of legal prescription?
I cannot bring myself to believe that any member subscribes to that view, but I will tell members a secret: I did once. The shame of those days has now given way to a shame that I fought those feelings for such a long time. Sadly, I know too many who still fight them—people young and old whose lives are a daily denial. I do not have to imagine how it feels to live like that because I remember it.
When I came out, I stopped looking at those around me and wishing that I was the same as them. Instead, I started to wish that I had the same rights as them—the same right to love, marry and dream of what might be.
The bill grants people throughout Scotland that right and the freedom to be true to their faith and to their love. I implore all members to join together and endorse it. What a sign that would be for all those people, young and old.
The debate is truly historic and long overdue. I am delighted to take part in it as a supporter of LGBT rights. It will also come as no surprise that I will be saying “I do.”
I pay compliments to the Equality Network, the Transgender Alliance, Stonewall Scotland and all the equality groups that played their part in the campaign that now results in the Parliament making its first vote on the bill that will make marriage equal in Scotland. The debate has often been contentious, particularly when played out in the media, and I am sure that all members will be sincere and courteous in their deliberations.
The Scottish Parliament was established to promote the values of social justice and tackle inequality. Since its inception, it has acted against social and moral inequality by repealing section 28, levelling the age of consent, allowing same-sex couples to adopt and foster, and introducing legislation to ensure that LGBT people are protected under hate crime laws. It is only right that we extend to LGBT citizens the rights and freedoms that many of us take for granted each day.
I ask the opponents of the bill who comment that civil partnerships were introduced for LGBT people whether the suffragettes were happy when the Representation of the People Act 1918 was introduced, allowing women over 30 to vote. No, they were not. They fought for a further decade to enfranchise all women and equalise the voting ages of men and women.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples who wish to marry should be able to do so. They should not be told that they must accept the current two-tier discriminatory system. Adapting our marriage laws will end that discrimination with no impact on any other marriage.
Our society has become increasingly liberal since 1999, and attitudes towards the LGBT community are changing, even if it sometimes feels as though they are doing so at a snail’s pace. Support for equal marriage is at an all-time high, and my vote will represent the majority of correspondence that I have received from constituents in West Scotland.
Although it is widely recognised and documented that attitudes are changing, the levels of stigma and discrimination towards LGBT people remain unacceptably high. Like many, I believe that same-sex marriage will help to tackle and reduce prejudice.
I will address the specifics of the bill and the Equal Opportunities Committee’s stage 1 report. Changes still need to be made and it is likely that amendments will be lodged that improve the opportunity to increase equality. However, I welcome the consideration of the Scottish Government and the Equal Opportunities Committee to report on issues such as gender recognition difficulties faced by long-term transitioned people and civil partnerships performed in another country.
The committee report also raises questions about the meaning and purpose of marriage. Those who are against the bill argue that the complementarity of a man and a woman is the basis of marriage, but that suggests that the basis of marriage is really about procreating. As we know all too well, the ability to create a child does not automatically create a perfect parent or, indeed, an ideal family unit. It seems that some people are living in a different society from the rest of us, and outdated values give no justice to the children of today.
As I said earlier, we have become more liberal. The number of single-parent families is increasing, and they are becoming more accepted as the norm. Suggesting that marriage is the basis for a stable environment for raising a family adds to the stigma that many single parents feel and it does no service to the tremendous work and support that many single-parent families do and give every week.
Marriage is a commitment between two loving and consenting adults; whether to have children after being married, or indeed before or never, is a decision solely for the couple, no matter how the family is created. The legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt, which came into force in 2009, was long overdue, but it gave the right to offer a child a safe, stable and loving home.
Having been married for 36 years and having raised two children, I strive to understand how introducing the bill takes anything away from my marriage. I agreed with the First Minister, for probably the first and perhaps the last time, when he stated at the Scottish Government Cabinet meeting in Renfrew last year:
“I personally struggle to see whose freedoms are being infringed by the move towards this legislation.”
It is right that freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of speech are protected. However, at what point does one person’s freedom override the equality of others? As many supporters of the bill have said, there are enough safeguards for people to express their view, as long as it is not seen to be hateful or discriminatory.
The bill is a step, if not a leap, towards ensuring equal rights for all Scots. I hope that it will add to the important and crucial work carried out to tackle inequality and discrimination. I look forward to casting my vote in support of the bill.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to take part in this debate today.
Clearly, we are dealing with a sensitive subject, and there has been a certain amount of strident language in the media from people at both ends of the spectrum. However, it was encouraging that in committee there was a generally reasonable tone from both committee members and witnesses. That tone was important because, whether Scotland is devolved or independent, we must be able to disagree among ourselves in a civilised way. I believe that that is what this Parliament is for.
We do not all need to be the same as each other and we do not all need to agree on one point of view. I want what I hope we all want, which is a pluralistic and inclusive Scotland that is made up of a wide variety of people and groups, and in which people of different backgrounds and orientations, and people with traditional faiths or none, can all belong and feel at home.
I think that we have to note as well that Parliament is not reflecting public opinion on this issue. We can argue about whether those supporting or those opposing the bill have the greater numbers on their side, but there is certainly not the overwhelming support outside this place for the bill that there seems to be inside. Parliament therefore needs to tread wisely if it is to keep all the people of Scotland on board.
Does the member accept that, as well as some people on both sides of the argument having strong feelings on it, there are an awful lot of people out there who are just puzzled that we have not got over this already?
There are people puzzled because we have not got over it already, and there are people puzzled about why we are looking at it when they think that there are other things that are more important.
We need to deal with this subject sensitively—I think that Ruth Davidson gave us a tremendous example of that—as we are talking about personal relationships. We have people who have a relationship with a partner whom they love and who want the right to marry them; we have people in a loving marriage relationship who feel that the proposed changes could devalue that relationship; and we have people like me who have a relationship with Jesus and want to show our love for him. Let us all accept that and try at least to tolerate a range of views.
There are two main arguments against the bill: one is on the principle that marriage is between a man and a woman and the second is about whether adequate safeguards are in place for those who disagree.
The latter is a concern that comes on top of the feeling of some religious people that they are being increasingly marginalised in society. On the first, the argument is that the word “marriage” has had a recognised meaning for a very long time. Some would argue that Parliament cannot or should not change that meaning. By widening the meaning, it dilutes the value.
No. I am sorry but I have to get on.
From a personal perspective, I have a lot of sympathy for that argument. However, that raises the question of how much my faith as a personal position should decide how I vote on an issue such as this. Coming from a Baptist perspective, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. While state has responsibility for restricting some actions and behaviour, it cannot ultimately impose values on people.
For me, therefore, the crucial arguments are around the protections for those who disagree with same-sex marriage, whether they are denominations, celebrants, or public sector or other workers. We have assurances from the Scottish and Westminster Governments that all is safe and full protection is in place. However, there remain a number of concerns.
First, the Equality Act 2010 does not say that all protected characteristics are equal; nor does it say how conflicts between different characteristics are to be decided. As a result, the courts have to decide which rights are most important. The perception among many religious people is that religion and belief often come at the bottom of the pile.
Secondly, the European Court of Human Rights can trump the UK and Scottish Governments. We heard at committee that the ECHR will not get involved if there is no such thing as same-sex marriage but, once same-sex marriage is permitted, will it switch to making it compulsory for churches and others to take part?
If churches are considered to be providing a public service, the courts could act against them for providing that service only to some and not to others. That is effectively what has happened with adoption agencies. At the time that adoption by same-sex couples was permitted, well-meaning assurances were given that no agency would be forced to take part. However, we now have the situation where the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator states that an agency cannot be a charity if it refuses to take part. Will permission turn to compulsion in a few years’ time? That is the concern of many of us.
We looked at that issue in committee and received different legal views about what might happen in future. Members might have seen in the Equality Network’s briefing that Karon Monaghan QC said that it is “inconceivable” that the European Court would overturn the protections. However, that is only one half of the story.
The other half is what Aidan O'Neill QC said, which was:
“if marriage is extended to same-sex couples, it will become a human rights requirement that there be equality of treatment and regard. In a sense, that is what is important about the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill—it shifts the position in that regard.”
He went on to say:
“Therefore, I think that the Equality Act 2010 leaves open the possibility of conflict”.—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 19 September 2013; c 1500-01.]
Not for the first time, we get a variety of legal opinion from a variety of legal experts. There is doubt whether the protections in place are robust; there are certainly no guarantees.
In a similarly controversial area, namely abortion, there is specific provision for national health service workers to be able to choose whether to take part. That seems to me to be a reasonable compromise. The NHS as a whole provides the service, but individuals are given reasonable accommodation. If the bill is to go forward, I would like to see similar increased protection for the individual conscience and belief of public sector and other workers.
I do not seek to impose Christian values on what is an increasingly secular society; nor do I seek to restrict the rights of anyone in society. I seek equality for each person in society, but I remain unconvinced by the assurances given and therefore I will vote against the bill.
A week past on Saturday, as the constituency member for Coatbridge and Chryston I hosted the Conforti Institute’s intercultural dialogue conference here, which included delegates from home and abroad, gay, straight, Catholic, humanist, Protestant and pagan. They all recognised that we have to share this planet for the short time that we are here and that, while we may not all agree on issues such as same-sex marriage, we can surely disagree in a respectful fashion. Indeed, Alex Neil asked that the debate
“be conducted in a good spirit and civilised manner, with respect on all sides.”
Since I indicated that I did not intend to support the redefinition of marriage, my religion has been disparaged, I have been branded homophobic and bigoted, I have been likened to the Ku Klux Klan and it was suggested that I be burned at the stake as a witch.
The irony is that I spent 12 years serving on the Equal Opportunities Committee, when we removed section 2A, permitted same-sex adoption and introduced civil partnerships. No one accused me of homophobia then—indeed, quite the opposite.
Most of the people who have engaged with me on the issue are not homophobic. They have the sincerely held beliefs that marriage means one man and one woman as the social construct that forms the basis of family life and that, by altering that reality, the state will fundamentally affect our society with as yet unknown consequences.
Catholics and other Christians who believe that marriage is a sacrament cannot support the redefinition. Of the 77,000 respondents to the Government’s consultation, which is the biggest response ever, 67 per cent were against redefining it. Those people need a voice in the Parliament tonight.
As we have heard, amendments to the Equality Act 2010 will be sought to try to protect the clergy from legal action. That clearly recognises that court cases are likely, but those protections should be for everyone. Freedom of worship and freedom of religion are two different things, and both need to be protected. Section 14 of the bill could be amended to give wider protection, but I am not convinced that that would be unassailable. In evidence, Alex Neil said:
“Sometimes, it depends on the judge.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 3 October 2013; c 1597.]
Previously, we were given promises by ministers that they did not foresee unintended consequences of same-sex adoption and that Catholic adoption agencies specifically would be able to continue their work. I was in the chamber then and voted for the legislation on that basis. We now know that that is not the case, and the closure of agencies means that many children will suffer as a consequence.
The problem with the threat of legal challenges is that the churches cannot afford to fight them, even if they ultimately win. Both the Catholic church and the Church of Scotland have therefore stated that they may be forced to separate religious ceremonies from state ceremonies. The consequence of that would be that thousands of heterosexual couples would need to get married in a registry office and then seek a religious blessing so that a few same-sex couples would have the full ceremony in a church. Those who support the bill and think that it will have no impact on them and most of us who just want to live and let live need to understand that they may be directly affected.
I do not have time.
There are wider implications and consequences, both intended and unintended. Aidan O’Neill QC’s legal opinion says that parents with children in faith schools could be affected, and teachers, chaplains, registrars and other public sector workers may be subject to disciplinary action.
Despite Government promises, no additional measures have as yet been included to safeguard freedom of speech and religion. The Lord Advocate’s guidance to prosecutors for those who oppose same-sex marriage also gives cause for concern and suggests the expectation of legal challenges.
As the constituency MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, I have been approached by hundreds of constituents who have asked me, either individually or as part of the numerous local religious organisations, to vote against the bill. It does not seem that many members will speak against it, but MSPs have a responsibility to ensure to the best of their ability that they are not introducing legislation that will have consequences—albeit perhaps unintended—that will negatively impact on society.
Some members may believe that, as a result of signing a pledge, they must support the bill. Indeed, it is worrying that the director of the Equality Network claimed in Holyrood magazine a few weeks ago that
“Over two-thirds of MSPs have now signed the Equality Network’s ‘Equal Marriage Pledge’ committing themselves to voting in favour of same-sex marriage.”
It is important to clarify that signing a pledge and voting for legislation are two very different things. Members signed that pledge before they set eyes on the legislation or before they scrutinised the proposal. The bill may well have detrimental consequences for many people, and their representatives need to be clear about that when they vote.
The committee report deals with the oral evidence, but it seems to be silent on the vast amounts of written evidence, including mine. In my submission, I cited Professor Tom Gallagher, who is a gay man who lives with his partner of 31 years and is the author of “Divided Scotland: Ethnic Friction & Christian Crisis”. He had hoped to give oral evidence, but he was not called. He would like his remarks to be put on the record. He said:
“The arrival of gay marriage only benefits a small group of activists, who have the ear of part of the media, the civil service & of politicians who naively think there are a few votes in it for them. Some gays and lesbians feel they have been hi-jacked by these campaigners. Many more are bound to be upset by the hurt caused to un-bigoted fellow citizens as they see one of mankind’s most important social structures—marriage—become a battleground in schools & almost certainly the courts. This is no liberation for gay Scots: instead it creates unnecessary distrust between them and a large swathe of the population.”
In conclusion, my considered view is that, while attempting to tackle a perceived inequality, we will create the conditions for discrimination and legal action against many of our citizens. In perhaps striving for an enlightened position that makes everything for the best in the best of all possible worlds, the bill will bring consequences that will have a detrimental impact on our fragile society.
I hope that MSPs have not been bounced into voting yes because of the fear of being branded homophobic, because they signed a pledge or because they have not reflected on all the arguments presented to the Government and the committee.
First, I would like to thank all those folks who took the time to write to me and let me know their views on the issue. An overwhelming majority of those of my constituents who have corresponded with me have said that I should vote in favour of the bill today.
I would like to read part of an email that I received. It says:
“As a gay teenager I cannot state strongly enough the impact that marriage equality would have on me personally, and the wider community. The majority of the political spectrum in Scotland stand by the principle of equality. I ask only that you adhere to it now.”
That email made me think of my teenage years. I became a teenager the year after homosexuality was decriminalised in Scotland, I was a teenager at the time of section 28 and I was a teenager at the time when some horrendous things were said about HIV being a “gay plague”. Society seemed to me to be hostile towards gay people.
At that point, I decided to play it straight, or at least to try to. I denied my sexual orientation throughout my teens and most of my 20s. I only told some of my close friends at the tail end of my 20s that I was gay. I did not tell my parents that until I was 39, which is something that I really regret and feel guilty about. I kind of slighted them, because their reaction was the same as it had always been in life—unequivocal love.
I believe in traditional marriage. I think that it has served me well in terms of the parents that I have, the grandparents that I have, and had, and my brother and sister. It has served people so well that I believe it should be extended to all people. I think that that is only right.
On religious tolerance, I have great respect for all views and I can understand why some folk have taken the stance that they have taken. However, Mr Mason talked about religious folk feeling marginalised. I think that we have to take account of folk who have felt marginalised for oh so many years, and actually get this right here today. [Applause.]
I have absolutely no malice for those who intend to vote no or abstain today, but I urge them to think of their children and grandchildren, who may well turn out to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We should give them the right to share the happiness and love and the trials and tribulations of marriage. I urge members, please, to support the bill today.
This is one of those historic days not just for the Parliament but for Scotland as a whole. The past years have seen a massive change in the perception of same-sex couples. It has been legal for some years now to be openly gay, whereas in previous generations people were at risk of persecution and conviction. Gay people can now serve openly in the armed forces and, of course, we are proud of all who are brave enough to do so to keep us safe at home. Same-sex couples can now adopt and have the joy and the responsibilities that that brings.
This is not just another bill. It is a reform that demonstrates that our Scottish society values everyone, whatever their sexuality and their relationships.
I will not argue that all Scotland or even all members of this Parliament think that we should allow same-sex marriage, but I think that Scotland is changing. In 2002, 41 per cent of the Scottish people agreed that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, and just eight years later the proportion had risen to 61 per cent. The Equal Opportunities Committee’s call for evidence attracted 1,300 responses, and 75 per cent of respondents were positive about equal marriage—a clear majority. There is clearly growing support for equal marriage. If my bulging in-box is anything to go by, by far the majority are in favour of equal marriage. There is no unanimity of course, but there is a clear majority in favour.
It will not surprise members that Liberal Democrats will support the bill as it goes through the Parliament. Our constitution says:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
We made equal marriage our party policy in 2010. I think that we were the first major party to do so. We submitted a positive response to the consultation, in which we said that Scotland can prove to the world that it is one of the fairest and most equal places in which to live.
The progress that we have made, for example by allowing gay people to serve in the forces, makes it more difficult to accept that there should be any barrier to a religious body that is willing to do so marrying two people who have religious beliefs and who feel strongly enough to want to accord their relationship the sanctity of marriage.
I emphasise that the religious body must be willing. I know that there are concerns that religious bodies, whatever their denomination, might be forced on human rights grounds to marry people whom they do not want to marry, but I simply do not buy that. I am aware of churches that would not marry opposite-sex couples, for example because the couple were not regular attenders. I know of no case in which such a couple would take a church to court; they would simply go to a church that was happy enough to sanctify their relationship. I cannot envisage a same-sex couple having any joy in taking a religious body to court on human rights grounds. It is worth noting that the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission support the bill.
The bill makes clear that no religious body will be required to solemnise a same-sex marriage and that even if a religious body opts in, individual celebrants will be under no obligation to marry a same-sex couple. We believe in freedom of expression, which extends to religious bodies, whether they want to opt in or out of equal marriage.
I mentioned the Liberal Democrats’ support for liberty, fairness and equality and said that we will support the bill. It is worth noting work that is going on elsewhere in the UK. Under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, a previous conviction for a homosexual act can be deleted. There has been a change to allow gay men to give blood and there has been an end to deporting gay asylum seekers to countries that would torture them for being gay. The UK Government encourages sports organisations to sign up to its sports charter, which calls for an end to homophobia and transphobia. There is also the UK Government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. I am sure that members—at least some of them, anyway—will applaud the positive difference that Liberal Democrats in coalition have made on equal rights for all.
I am proud to be a member of the Scottish Parliament while the bill is going through, albeit that we are not the first country in Europe to legislate for equal marriage. Westminster is ahead of us, and Belgium, France, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Iceland have legislated, as have 16 of the 50 states of the United States of America. The bill’s progress today will prove that Scotland is a fairer and more equal country, in which we can all be proud to live.
I will vote for the bill, because I think that it is underpinned by tolerance, recognition and respect. It is about the fundamental human right to love and to express that love publicly, in a declaration of commitment that cannot be dismissed as second class or second best.
The bill is a mark of how far we have come on the issue of equality in a relatively short period of time. It is only a few decades ago, in my own lifetime, that homosexuality was criminalised, and people lived double lives and lived in fear of exposure, blackmail and sometimes even imprisonment. We should never forget that such hazards remain very real in other countries where human rights are denied on the basis of sexuality and often gender.
The language that is used by a small number of people outside the chamber in the wider debate on equal marriage has on occasion become polarised. We have heard the preposterous allegation that gay unions are tainted, and similarly we have seen those who have asked for reassurances in respect of their religious beliefs dismissed as homophobic. That language is not helpful, and I do not think that it reflects where the majority of the population stand on the issue.
I support equal marriage in principle, but one of my reasons for speaking in the debate is personal. Like many people of my generation, I did not, when I was growing up in a very religious Roman Catholic family in a small Scottish town, know anyone who was gay. My first encounter with homosexuality was in 1975, when Thames Television broadcast “The Naked Civil Servant” in which John Hurt portrays Quentin Crisp. Although it was a breakthrough in the sense that it was a sympathetic film, it gave a stereotyped and almost caricaturish portrayal of homosexuality as outrageous and eccentric: something that was outside the mainstream. However, within a few years of that film, everything had changed. Suddenly we all knew someone in our own family or wider circle of friends who was openly gay. In my case, my cousin and close childhood friend Cal came out at the age of 18, and through him I formed many firm friendships with gay men in particular that have lasted a lifetime.
It is perhaps not surprising, given my age and liberal outlook, that I was happy to accept my friend’s sexuality. What is more significant is that the older people in our family, who had very strong religious beliefs and grew up in a far more socially conservative age in the 1950s and 1960s, also accepted his sexuality. I am not saying that it happened overnight or that there was no awkwardness—or that there were not aunties whispering in private, “I just wish he’d meet a nice girl”—but there was public acceptance. There were joint invitations and Christmas cards, and family gatherings, and over time—as in many, many families—having a gay couple was utterly unremarkable. It was mainstream.
When my cousin Cal died of cancer at the age of 50 three years ago, we grieved as a family, and his male partner was treated with the same consideration and sympathy as any heterosexual partner who had suffered such a loss would have been. The family saw the devoted nursing care that he gave to Cal in his last weeks, and at the funeral he was the chief mourner.
That is not to say that the older members of the family, in their 70s, 80s and 90s, had abandoned in any way their strong religious beliefs, but, just as they said a silent prayer at the humanist funeral, they had reached an accommodation with the partnership that was based on love, and loyalty and basic human decency.
That is why I believe that those harsh voices speaking out against the legislation are not typical of lay members of the Christian church-going population. The vast majority of religiously observant people—even those in churches that are officially against equal marriage—will accept this change in practice, just as they have accepted their gay friends and family members. They judge people on the basis of their character, not their sexuality. They ask, “Are they kind, loyal, generous and fair?” and “Are they a good son or daughter?” That is what matters to most of us.
I welcome the fact that the Equality Act 2010 will be amended to further protect individual celebrants who do not wish to carry out same-sex marriage but who belong to a religious body that has opted to do so. That is about tolerance. Just as I do not believe that those with religious views opposing equal marriage should dictate the law, I do not believe that the law should impose my values on religious denominations.
I conclude by reflecting on Margaret McCulloch’s comment when she spoke for the committee earlier that the committee would “agree to differ”. As we move forward, I think that society as a whole will agree to differ, and in doing so they are agreeing to respect difference: difference in sexuality. That is a mark of our tolerance.
This piece of legislation is about the journey that we have made as a society. Although we have heard a lot today about marginalisation and alienation, and people feeling bullied and excluded, my personal experience is that the bill will bring the law into line with real life and real families. We are actually a much more tolerant society than this debate has sometimes given the impression we are.
I have heard many of my colleagues who are in the chamber today being asked why they got involved in politics. The most common answer is that they got involved in politics because they wanted to change the world. My most usual answer is that I got involved in politics because I thought that the world was changing too fast and I wanted to slow it down a bit. Perhaps that is the definition of conservative with a small c.
When I look at the proposals contained in the bill I see some specific issues that I hope to have time to address later, but I also see a general principle, which is to change the way in which we view marriage and to extend that to a greater, more complete range of people in our society. That is a principle that, at heart, I believe to be sound. My problem, however, is with the effect on the overall balance of our views on marriage and with why we have chosen to act in this way at this time to the exclusion of other possibilities.
I view marriage as an important cornerstone of our families and our society as a whole. During my lifetime, I have seen society begin to fall apart. I have seen families in instability, and I have seen individual children raised in difficult circumstances as a result. That is why I would argue that one of the priorities of the Parliament should be to strengthen families, to find ways to reinforce marriage and to reverse the trends of half a century and more in order to gain that stability. That is why I worry that we are making this policy a wrong priority at the wrong time.
During the conduct of its inquiry, the Equal Opportunities Committee, its members and all those who came before it treated the whole issue with a very high degree of mutual respect and maturity. The evidence that was given and the debate that took place were of the highest standard, and I commend the report that the committee produced. However, during its preparation and while we were taking evidence, I found that I had to dispute one or two issues.
Professor Curtice spoke about the level of public support. True enough—opinion polls indicate that support for the change is growing rapidly in society. I believe that similar polls also indicate that that is largely because people no longer have the care to commit to a particular policy. It may not be that people care more; it may be that people actually care less.
We have spoken about the redefinition of marriage. Other members have mentioned traditional marriage as a key element of what we have discussed. I believe that traditional marriage can be undermined by the proposed change. As a result, I ask the minister to say something either during the debate or before stage 2 about the other proposals that he has brought forward, such as the forthcoming review of same-sex civil partnerships. Is there any way that, during that process, he can consider how we might lend a hand to those people within families who require support to enjoy greater stability?
Elaine Smith raised the issue of tolerance. She was concerned that, once she had made her opinion public, she had suffered as a result. I have found that there is an extent, within the broader argument, to which that can happen—I have had some interesting emails—but that is just a measure of the passion that people hold within the debate. We need to promote tolerance through the debate, and we must ensure that it does not become a one-way street. It is important that that tolerance continues.
There is a requirement to protect the freedom of those who disagree with the change in legislation, whether they be religious bodies or staff in our public bodies, particularly teachers in our schools. I am worried that if we get this wrong we will create a situation that has certain parallels with the debate on section 28, which resulted in teachers, parents and pupils facing some very difficult circumstances.
I am sorry—I am coming to a conclusion.
Although I will not support the bill as a whole, I am prepared to support a number of proposed amendments to it. However, I am concerned about proposals to lower the age at which the gender recognition process can begin. I will seek further information on the matter and will most likely oppose any change in the Government’s policy in that respect.
I understand the equality and diversity arguments that are contained within and surround the bill, but I want to ensure that we also achieve stability and security in our families and our society and I believe that, by broadening the bill’s perspective, the Government could achieve so much more.
I am grateful to the Equal Opportunities Committee for its careful consideration of the bill and the report that it has produced. Of course, for those who are not on the committee in question, it is only when we get to see the stage 1 report that we get a sense of the issues that have generated discussion and the areas of detail that need to be addressed.
The committee heard a great deal of evidence that same-sex couples feel that they are discriminated against; indeed, the same point has been very well and movingly articulated by members this evening. That view has to be respected—and I do respect it. However, I ask members to bear with me while I take a slightly different tack from what has come before and see where it takes us.
It seems to me that what is being proposed is not very different from a civil partnership. The present differences between civil partnerships and marriages are helpfully outlined in paragraph 214 of the report and essentially relate to pension rights and international recognition. However, revising the law on marriage is not the only way of dealing with such issues. Of course, pension rights are reserved and can be worked through only in co-operation with the Westminster Government, and it is clear that a significant amount of work needs to be done to resolve the matter. International recognition is important, but I simply point out that a couple in a civil partnership who wish to move abroad ought to be in a position to marry there, if that is desirable, and I am not convinced that it is our duty to accommodate every nuance of other jurisdictions’ law in our own.
The member must forgive me if I make some progress. I will come back to him if I can.
Having been around for millennia, the traditional view of marriage has worked rather well as the basis of family relationships in societies around the world. In the Christian faith, it is not just a practical policy but also hugely symbolic—and I want members to understand that. Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to the Almighty’s redemptive purpose for his people, while the church—that is, his people—is described as the bride of Christ many times in the Bible. The differences between the two parties could hardly be clearer; equally, their complementarity is evident from the fact that it is those very people—the Christian church—who demonstrate the outworking of Christ’s love to each generation. That is why the so-called traditional view of marriage actually matters to the Christian church. Some will say that marriage is only a word—and they would be right. However, words have meaning and I am in no hurry to change the meaning of a word in our law when so much has been attached to it in our literature and liturgy.
Much of the evidence given to the committee relates to protections for those who do not want to have to celebrate same-sex marriages. I hope members will understand from what I have said that such views can be held without any feelings of homophobia; indeed, concern has also been expressed about the position of teachers.
I note first of all the general belief among witnesses that the proposed protections are strong but, secondly, the doubts that remain about the robustness of those protections, particularly in the context of European law and how that might develop over time. What is clear is that if the bill is enacted substantially as drafted the meaning of marriage will have been radically altered.
The cabinet secretary says that he will not regard his marriage as having been diminished by what is proposed. I understand his view and, indeed, hold a similar view about my own relationship with my wife. However, I remind members that a set is not defined by its present population but by its boundaries. What is being proposed will change marriage as an institution—and that will alter the context for everyone in the future. As Mr Spock would have put it, “It’s marriage, Jim, but not as we know it.”
I would prefer to acknowledge that it distinguishes, because heterosexual and homosexual relationships are dealt with differently. It seems to me—I had hoped that the member would have picked this up—that those differences are what we should address. Those issues of pension rights and international recognition should be dealt with. My concern is that we are focusing on this one word, and I hope that, from what I have said previously—I encourage members to read it in the Official Report—members recognise that there are reasons for being concerned simply about that word.
It is interesting that the member seems to place great emphasis on the value of that word in relation to his own marriage, whereas in discussing the merits of civil partnership he talks about not an essential difference, but a technical one. Why should those of us who place value in that word and to whose lives its cultural meaning is relevant not also enjoy the freedom to express it?
I am absolutely clear that they can, and I think that they will. I am asking members to understand that there are reasons why, within a biblical theology, people in the Christian church feel that that word has another meaning—that is all. That is the historical position.
Gosh! My speech is going to have to be shortened.
The future of civil partnerships is already under review. I wonder why we are in such a hurry to change the meaning of marriage at the moment, when many of the issues—some of which were picked up in the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee—could have been much more easily dealt with had we rationalised civil partnerships across same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. I encourage the minister to consider whether it might be better to do that before we implement the bill because, had that been done, it might have reduced some of the problems.
Members bring a range of experiences, ideas and beliefs to the chamber, but it is always worth reminding ourselves that, although they might not always seem to do so, our debates and judgments affect how real people live their lives, the opportunities that they have and their sense of the value that society places on them.
The issue of equal marriage rights was raised with me during the 2011 election campaign, when I strongly supported the references to it in my party’s manifesto. Nevertheless, I had perhaps not thought through the reasons why I felt that way about it—my response was instinctual. I was first asked my views on the issue a few days after the election and, over time, I have found myself being asked about it more and more often. As I thought more about it and listened to others expressing their views, I came to understand my own feelings about it a bit more clearly. In the course of the wider debate that led up to the introduction of the bill, I remembered someone whom I had not forgotten but the extent of whose influence on the view that I had thought was instinctual I had not realised.
Like the majority of the Scottish population, I strongly support the provisions of the bill. I have also, at various times, pressed the cabinet secretary—and, indeed, his predecessor—to hurry along. Therefore, I am very pleased that we have got to this point and hope that we will follow the example of England and Wales and the many other countries that have created equal marriage. I believe that marriage rights are an issue of equality, and I feel strongly that the current position of civil partnerships, which I supported at the time and was proud of my party for having taken the lead in introducing, is not quite enough. Although there is little difference between civil partnerships and marriage in terms of legal rights, the fact that civil partnerships preclude the right of gay people of faith to commit themselves to each other in a religious service is discriminatory. I hope that one of the major achievements of the bill will be to remove that discrimination.
Equality does not mean that everything must be the same; equally, difference should not be imposed on identical things. Same-sex relationships may be different from opposite-sex relationships, but are all relationships not different and unique? Do they not all share the same basic principle: love for another human being and a desire to commit to spending your life with that person? I do not think that the state has the right to draw a distinction between human partnerships that human beings do not draw themselves, and to me that is fundamentally what the bill is about and why I support it.
In 2000, this Parliament repealed section 28—section 2A—which it did in advance of the rest of the UK. Looking back, we can see that the repeal of section 28 was a victory for equality, but it did not come without cost, just as the years of various discriminatory laws did not come without cost and just as that cost still exists in many parts of the world, as Joan McAlpine rightly highlighted. There are members in the chamber who will have celebrated that victory and they might also recall some of the pain of that debate: the things that were said that can never be unsaid and the people who pushed ahead and, in my view, have never been properly recognised for their efforts.
When section 28 was debated by the Parliament, I was still at school—a religious school—and I recall what was said. I recall talking to classmates about the leaflets that were going through our parents’ doors, the newspaper headlines and the things that were said on the school bus.
I mentioned that I thought of someone in the context of this debate. I remember a girl—a young woman—in my year at school, who one evening appeared on the TV news, which was rather unexpected. She spoke out and, to many of us, she became the first person we knew to come out. She did it by asking a very simple and powerful question: what right do others have to make a judgement about me and my life or to make a distinction about who I am and what I am? That was in the context of the section 28 debate.
There are many things that I could say about the detail of the bill, and others are rightly saying them. I celebrate the fact that this may be the last major legal change required to remove discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people from our law, and I am very privileged to be in this place, at this time, to support it. I will follow the amendments at stage 2 and I will support efforts to improve the bill. It is probably not the last major piece of legislation for transgender people, but it is a significant step on the way.
I will oppose any change to the bill that could threaten a new section 28, however well intentioned people may be on that issue. I do not want a situation in which there is a campaign to come back to the bill because of a section that is inserted at stage 2.
I do not know whether the woman that I mentioned has sent one of us an email asking us to support this legislation or if she has put her activism behind her.
However, I will vote tonight for her, as much as for any of the other good reasons—and I thank Ruth Davidson for giving a voice to those reasons. It is thanks to that woman and many people I have met in the course of this campaign that a generation of people will be able to grow up, fall in love and get married, not with the world not caring who they get married to, but with the world recognising the partnership that they make rather than differentiating their relationship.
I am very grateful to support the general principles of the bill.
I thank Mary Fee, the previous convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, who welcomed me to the committee when we first considered the bill. A few months later, I welcomed Margaret McCulloch as our new convener.
Before I come to the detail of the recommendations that we made in our report, I thank all the members of the committee for their warm welcome and for the way that we worked together on the bill. I echo the words of Alex Johnstone and John Mason when I say that we agreed to disagree and then moved forward.
We made a couple of recommendations on registration of celebrants. The first came from the evidence of Ephraim Borowski of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, who addressed the definition of non-civil marriages, particularly in the context of humanist marriages. We feel that it is important to reflect the distinction between religious ceremonies and belief ceremonies, which is why we ask the Scottish Government its views on the suggested amendment on the redefinition of non-civil marriages.
Ross White of the Humanist Society Scotland gave evidence and commented on the Church of Scotland’s preferential status in law. We ask the Government to clarify its view on the claim that the Church of Scotland has a privileged status in marriage law.
A lot was said about the Government’s forthcoming review of civil partnerships and we heard the cabinet secretary today reassure us that the review will come soon. We note the Scottish Government’s plan to consider issues relating to civil partnerships, including opposite-sex civil partnerships.
To understand better the reasons behind the bill, we did a fair bit of travelling when taking evidence. Believe me, the international perspective was always there. Under the bill, same-sex couples who have entered into a civil partnership in another country will have to dissolve their partnership before being permitted to marry here in Scotland. The committee feels that such couples should be able to convert their civil partnership to a marriage, just as couples whose civil partnerships were conducted in Scotland will be able to do.
The Scottish Government believes that allowing gender-neutral ceremonies could cause problems for denominations that might not want to use a gender-neutral marriage declaration when marrying an opposite-sex couple. We kind of disagree, and we would like the Government to reconsider. It should be possible to allow a choice of gender-neutral or gender-specific language for marriage declarations.
Professor John Curtice told us how much public opinion has changed regarding attitudes towards same-sex relationships. I am pleased that a lot of our work was to recognise the change of gender for married persons or civil partners, as I feel that attitudes towards transgender communities have not yet changed as much as I would like. James Morton of the Scottish Transgender Alliance told us about his proposal for an amendment to the bill to make sure that a spouse cannot stop his or her partner’s gender recognition. James said that for someone to have their gender identity legally recognised and respected by their Government is a human right and something that no one should be able to stop.
We considered how spouses of people seeking gender recognition might find the process difficult, although an important point is that we have not received any evidence from their perspective. After long consideration, we came to the conclusion that the non-transitioning spouse’s personal choice is sufficiently protected by the automatic grounds for divorce that are triggered by his or her partner seeking gender recognition. In the report, we ask for the requirement for spousal consent for gender recognition to be removed.
We received evidence about lowering the age requirement to change gender. James Morton said:
“Transgender people aged 16 or 17 will remain discriminated against under the bill as drafted”.—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 5 September 2013; c 1391.]
We do not think that we have enough evidence on lowering the age requirement, which is why we have asked the Government to provide a detailed response on the issue in advance of stage 2.
To conclude, I would like to share a thought about how the world has moved on. As members must know by now, I was raised on a chicken farm in Burgundy in France. I clearly remember the day my father told me about one of his regular customers, a farmer who lived in the remote village with his partner. I was struck by the way that my father spoke about this couple, with great respect and in a friendly tone. I disagree with Elaine Smith, who talked about a small group of activists, because I would not consider that couple, deep in rural France, to be a small group of activists. I wonder what happened to them, and I wonder how much those two farmers—those two men—would have liked to get married, like every other farming couple in rural France many decades ago.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for the privilege of taking part in this debate. I also thank several of the speakers who have given a very personal take on the issue—Kevin Stewart, Marco Biagi and, in particular, Ruth Davidson. In 10 years as a member of the Parliament, I have never so enthusiastically applauded a Conservative speech. I am always open to a new experience, of course.
Members might be a little surprised that my personal circumstances place me in what I regard as impeccably neutral territory on the issue: I am single, I am bisexual, I have no idea whether I will have a long-term relationship with a man or a woman in future and I have no idea whether I would want to get married. Certainly, I do not personally regard marriage as a gold standard; I regard it as one of the many options on family status that people will make a choice between on the basis of their values and not the values that we would impose on them.
The arguments that we have heard against the bill have been many and varied. Some have been frankly spurious and silly, such as the one that goes, “Well, you know, you can get married already, just to somebody of the opposite sex.” I cannot believe how frequently I have heard that nonsensical and demeaning argument.
Some arguments have been mischievous. There have been deliberate attempts to whip up ungrounded fears about ministers in the Church of Scotland being dragged off by the police, taken to the courts and prosecuted for refusing to marry same-sex couples.
Some of the arguments against the legislation have simply been curious, such as the view that, from the starting point of religious freedom, the law ought to tell churches who they may not be allowed to marry. It seems to me that the argument for religious freedom must be in favour of what the Government is trying to achieve with the bill, which is to permit but not compel.
Some arguments against the legislation are serious and we should not ignore them—quite the contrary. There has been serious opposition to pretty much every step that has been taken in the equalities story over many generations. Certain voices have opposed every step towards LGBT equality, from decriminalisation onwards. Those serious arguments absolutely must not be ignored but must be confronted and defeated because they assert, whether in religious or other terms, the lesser worth, dignity, status or value of LGBT people and our relationships. Those arguments should and deserve to be defeated. In more than 20 years of volunteering, working or campaigning on many of those issues, I have in all honesty never heard a coherent moral argument in favour of the view that same-sex relationships are of lesser worth or status or that they are morally wrong. I have heard many such arguments rooted in homophobia but none in a coherent moral case.
Some of the arguments that I have heard fall under the heading “I’m not homophobic, but”. That amounts to someone saying that they are not homophobic but they are concerned that one day they might need to treat LGBT people as though they were their equals. On that basis, we have heard demands for so-called protections to be built into the legislation—protections from the indignity of having to treat other people as equals. If we look at the evidence that we heard on the call for those protections, were we to give into the demands, that would amount to a rolling back of 10 or 15 years of legislative and cultural progress towards equality. We should hold the line against those demands absolutely.
I was proud of Scotland’s Parliament—not as a MSP but as a citizen—not only when it repealed section 28 but when it held the line against the forces of social conservatism and homophobia and did not give into the demands for concessions. We should be equally proud today and over the months to come not only of passing the legislation but of holding the line against demands for amendments that would weaken the principle of equality. We should also listen seriously to the calls for amendments on issues that members have mentioned, such as the spousal veto, overseas civil partnerships, gender neutral language and gender recognition for younger people. If we do that, we will deserve the pride of many Scottish citizens when we pass the bill at stage 3.
The bill before us concerns an issue that is deeply close to my heart, as it is for other members and for our fellow citizens who have joined us in the gallery this evening.
Ruth Davidson was right to say that the debate is a sign of the growing maturity of the Parliament. The bill is about marriage, but its passage into law will also represent the culmination of decades of struggle for equality for lesbians and gay men, as well as bisexual and transgender people.
Let us not forget that, as recently in our history as 1980, homosexual relations between two men remained illegal, while the very concept of relations between two women did not exist in law. In truth, to be lesbian or gay in Scotland—I can speak only from my experience—was to inhabit a cold and inhospitable place. To come out at that time was to face rejection from friends, family and work colleagues; it was also to risk opprobrium and, in some cases, violence. There were precious few positive role models in the media or in our communities, and it seemed that the further one travelled from metropolitan Glasgow or cosmopolitan Edinburgh, the harsher and the colder that climate became.
Many people chose to leave Scotland rather than stay to face the discrimination and prejudice that were, sadly, a hallmark in much of Scottish society at that time. Thankfully, the culture and temperature have changed. To have had this debate even 10 years ago would have been unthinkable. I believe that, in time, the passage of the bill will enjoy widespread acceptance in our society.
The challenge for those of us who make our laws is not to do what is popular—to stick our finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing—but to represent our constituents, to listen to the voice of our conscience and to do what is right. I believe that the bill is right and that it commands the public’s support.
In the years since 1980, much progress has been made towards equality through employment legislation, the lifting of the armed forces ban, an equal age of consent, adoption rights and this Parliament’s introduction of a law to outlaw hate crime. However, the struggle for equality has not yet been won. That is why the bill and the debate are so important to so many of us.
In the context of the debate, the most significant change has been the introduction of civil partnerships, which have undoubtedly enhanced the lives of many same-sex couples across the country by conferring on them many of the rights that married couples enjoy. However, a civil partnership is a legal contract; it is not marriage.
My constituents have written in their hundreds to urge me to support the bill and I have been moved and humbled by their testimony. One woman wrote to say:
“I am a practising Catholic who is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage and would very much want my voice to be heard”.
One man urged me to support the bill to end what he called
“government supported prejudice against gay people as second class Scots.”
Another constituent contacted me to say:
“I simply cannot understand what harm it does to anyone if two other people decide to get married. What possible grounds can there be to object to the legislation”?
The reason cannot be freedom of religion, because the bill enshrines protection for denominations that oppose same-sex marriage on the ground of theology. At the Equal Opportunities Committee, I asked:
“Has your denomination been compelled to perform same-sex marriage in any of the countries that have introduced same-sex marriage?” and the Catholic Church’s representative said:
Let us be clear: no synagogue, mosque, temple or church—whether of the Catholic or reformed tradition—will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. The bill will not undermine freedom of religion. We will enhance freedom of religion by allowing faiths that recognise same-sex marriage as part of their understanding of God’s love for all people to conduct such ceremonies.
The objection to the bill cannot relate to the need to protect traditional marriage, as marriage has evolved over time. Today, who would defend the subjugation of women in marriage as expressed in the 18th century by a Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Braxfield, when he said that
“in law a wife has no person”?
Traditional marriage has evolved to recognise the rights of women and allow divorce and it has always evolved to reflect social mores.
The objection to the bill cannot be that it represents an attack on marriage. On the contrary, how can that be the case when it will meet the desire of thousands of loving couples to be brought within the ambit of marriage? Contrary to what Alex Johnstone said, the bill will strengthen marriage.
Scotland is no longer the cold and inhospitable place that I described. Tonight, we have the opportunity to take a further significant step as a society to recognise that love is love, whether it involves a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman.
The bill offers a state and social affirmation of the right of two people who love each other to proclaim that love before the world. This is a wonderful opportunity for the Parliament to signal to the world the type of country that we want Scotland to be—one that is open, tolerant and generous to all.
The time for equality in Scotland has arrived.
I am pleased to speak in the stage 1 debate on the bill.
I am not a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, but I have opposed discrimination that is based on people’s sexual orientation since I was a student, which was about 40 years ago. That was in the bleak and inhospitable place that Jim Eadie just spoke about, where sex between men was still illegal, where lesbianism was not recognised because—apparently—Queen Victoria did not think that it could happen, where same-sex partners rarely dared to express their affection publicly, where coming out to the family was a major difficulty for many gay people, and where the popular terminology that was used to describe gay people was derogatory and offensive. I found all that to be totally abhorrent, as were apartheid and racial segregation, which existed at the same time.
I have had many representations on the bill from constituents, many of whom have been supportive and many who oppose the bill. To constituents who have asked me to vote against the bill because it redefines marriage, I apologise, but I do not agree with their arguments, and I will explain why. To those who told me that they will not vote for me—well, that is their prerogative.
The view that marriage is solely the union of a man and a woman for procreation is outdated and simplistic; there has always been a lot more to marriage than that. For monarchs and powerful families, marriage created and cemented alliances. For others, it represented respectability and the division of labour and responsibilities between men and women. Until recently, as Jim Eadie said, women were the possessions of their husbands. Marriage signified that the woman belonged to the man so that no one else could have a sexual relationship with her and the man could be sure that the children were his.
In these more egalitarian times, marriage is a public declaration of love and of the intention that the relationship will be permanent. It might or might not involve children. If it does, those children might or might not be the biological children of both or either of the parents. Many of us—myself included—have been married more than once; indeed, my oldest lad was at my second wedding. Many other people have stable long-term relationships and bring up their families without feeling the need to be married. Many families consist of one parent bringing up their children with the support of relatives and friends.
The bill will enable people of the same gender who want to make that public declaration of love and permanence in a religious ceremony that reflects their faith to do so. I also support the Government’s proposal for an opt-in process and I welcome the assurances that have been given. However, some of my constituents’ representations have expressed concern about possible discrimination against people of faith. The cabinet secretary talked about circulating letters to certain members; I wonder whether he could circulate that information to all MSPs so that we can offer reassurance to constituents who have been in touch with us.
Other members have reflected on how far we have come in the past 40 years. If someone had told me 40 years ago that a Conservative Prime Minister in the UK Parliament would promote equal marriage, I simply would not have believed them. I am proud of Scotland’s journey, I am proud that more than 60 per cent of Scots now agree with equal marriage, and I am proud that three quarters of those who responded to the committee’s consultation also agree.
As a young woman, I read books that described the experiences of gay people, including Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness” and Gore Vidal’s “The City and the Pillar”. They were stories of tragedy, but the story of being LGBT today should no longer be a tragedy.
I remind people who say that civil partnerships should be enough of the 1976 hit by the Tom Robinson Band “(Sing if You’re) Glad to be Gay”, which, despite its cheerful title, spoke of police harassment, beatings, and insults, and ended with—I will not say the word—the b’s
“are legal now; what more are they after?”
Well, like most people, they want equality.
I will support the bill at stage 1 and I hope that it makes its way through Parliament into legislation. It will not mean the end of discrimination against LGBT people, but it will be an expression by this Parliament of the will to treat people equally and not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or the sexual identity that a person is born with.
When I was young, people used to think that being LGBT was a choice, or something their mum or their school did, but people are born that way. A person who is born LGBT does not make the choice to be that, any more than I made the choice to grow to only five foot one. [Applause.]
It is just part of the glorious diversity of human beings. Legislation should treat people equally and not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, any more than on the basis of gender, race or faith. The Government is getting that balance right. I am pleased to support the bill, and I am so proud of the progress that we have made in Scotland during my lifetime.
“of the glorious diversity of human beings” from Elaine Murray just sums everything up. That was great.
I am pleased to take part in the debate today because I feel that it has been a long time coming, although that might be a mark of my own frustration about things. I looked back at the debate that took place during the passing of the 2004 legislation for civil partnerships, and at that time, I asked:
“How can anyone sit here and say that it is equality if same-sex couples are not allowed to manifest their faith in the same way that mixed-sex couples can”—[Official Report, 3 June 2004; c 8935.]
even if the minister is happy to carry out the ceremony? I still feel that way. I just cannot get my head round the idea that some people should be treated differently from others; it just very, very wrong.
However, it may well be that, although I saw civil partnerships as a temporary solution that ought to be quickly overtaken, it was right at the time that that step was taken, so that we could move on. The figures that Jackie Baillie cited on how social attitudes have changed perhaps indicate that it was correct to introduce civil partnerships.
I have been struck by the amount of personal testimony that has been given; members have been extremely brave. No one need get their notebook out—I am not about to say anything stunning—but I would like to illustrate how time moves on and attitudes change. Thirty-odd years ago, my standing up and saying, “You know what? I’m not married. I live in sin,” might have been as stunning as saying the things that we have heard some members say today. Now, no one cares about that. In the 1960s, it might have been stunning to hear an 11-year-old say, “You know what? My mum’s just run off with another man and my mum and dad are going to get divorced.” I was that 11-year-old. I hid that from people at school, from neighbours and from other people I met for a couple of years because I was ashamed of it. According to social mores at the time, a child’s parents getting divorced was extremely shocking.
What we are doing today is extremely important and represents a natural step forward. I hope that we get to the point—when I am no longer here—when someone, in the course of explaining to Parliament something that had been taboo for many years, says, “You’ll never guess what. It’s not that long ago that same-sex marriages were something that people found it really difficult to talk about. People found it hard to say that they were in a same-sex relationship because that was what was right for them.” To me, the issue is just about equality—straight, simple equality. It is about accepting people the way they are. Why cannot everyone just accept people the way they are if they are not hurting anyone else? It is extremely simple.
That brings me on to the spousal veto. I had intended to talk about it more, but I am aware that other members want to speak. I was pleased to hear the minister say in his opening remarks that he would look at the spousal veto on legal gender recognition, whereby the spouse of a person who has been through the whole process can still prevent them from having their gender legally recognised. That must be looked at, so I am glad that the minister said that he would do so.
I would like to give due recognition to everyone who has worked so hard for same-sex marriage. There is a great wee book called “Six Reasons to Support Equal Marriage” by the Equality Network. What struck me when I looked through it was how happy everyone in it looks—it is such a happy document—and when we were standing outside in the wet mud getting our photographs taken earlier today, it struck me how happy everyone is that the bill is going ahead. Let us not lose that sentiment. We should be extremely happy that we are moving forward in such a way.
It is true that we still have a way to go, but what we are doing today is very good for Parliament and—in the longer term, even though some may not feel that way now—for everyone in it. It is also very good for Scotland, and we should celebrate that.
In this important debate about same-sex marriage—which is more often referred to as equal marriage—it is worth taking a moment to set the debate in context. The Equal Opportunities Committee is the lead committee for consideration of the bill and it has the formal remit of considering and reporting on matters that relate to equal opportunities, which include the prevention, elimination or regulation of discrimination between persons on the grounds of, among other things, gender, marital status, race, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion.
The proposition that is before us today is that the belief that is traditionally, if not exclusively, held by members of the Christian faith and other religions—that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman—discriminates against same-sex couples and therefore the law must be changed to allow equal marriage. That is a dangerous distortion of equality. Equal opportunities celebrates diversity. In that context, equality is not about seeking to make everyone the same but is, in essence, about elimination of discrimination and concentration on fairness and diversity. Equal marriage sets two equality strands—sexual orientation and religious belief—in competition with each other.
My view is in the minority and, if Mark McDonald does not mind, I will use the time that is available to me to develop it coherently.
The decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1980 was an important milestone in tackling the historic discrimination against LGBT people, but same-sex couples in stable and loving relationships still had no legal rights vis-à-vis their partners for many years. If one partner was hospitalised, the other had no legal right to be given any information about their illness or care because they were deemed not to be a relative. The Civil Partnership Act 2004, together with the inclusion of same-sex cohabitees in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, ended that terrible injustice. Provision was made to recognise legal rights to, for example, inheritance and property ownership for same-sex couples.
The point is that discrimination has been addressed, as I have described. In seeking to go further and to redefine marriage, the Government is blurring the distinction between state or civil provision, in which it has a role to play, and religious belief and teaching, in which it does not.
Furthermore, people who believe passionately in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman have felt empathy with the LGBT community and have supported and campaigned to eliminate discrimination against it. They did so because that is the fair and right thing to do, despite warnings and fears being voiced that marriage would be undermined. Those same people now find that there is little reciprocal empathy and, sometimes, little tolerance for their views.
With the attempt to redefine marriage, the pendulum has swung too far. Passing the bill will do nothing to address the totally unacceptable abuse of LGBT individuals, which still exists and includes, for example, instances of homosexuals within the Asian community being forced into heterosexual marriages.
However, if the bill is passed, people who oppose same-sex marriage and who already feel inhibited in expressing that view will, ultimately, be more apprehensive about expressing their religious beliefs—regardless of the well-intentioned proposals for safeguards.
There is nothing remotely fair about seeking to dismiss and diminish the deeply held convictions and religious beliefs of thousands of people in Scotland who attend church, temple or mosque, who work hard to do their best for their families and who go about their everyday business without imposing their views on anyone else. That is why I will vote against the bill.
We are all hugely influenced by our early experiences. I was fortunate in mine: I come from a conscientious, working-class, Irish Catholic family steeped in social awareness and was taught from an early age that perceived difference mattered not a jot and that we were all Jock Tamson’s bairns.
That maxim has stood me in good stead over the years, and that is why I will support the bill at decision time. It is not because I have had a number of emails that say I should support it. If anything, on balance, I have probably had more against it than for it. I will vote on the basis of what I believe to be right and because of some personal experiences.
This is a huge step for the Parliament and for Scotland. We have talked about the bill being a good thing for the Scottish Parliament, but I think that it is a good thing for the country. We pride ourselves on our values of equality, fairness and social justice, as Jackie Baillie said earlier, and I think that the bill is a perfect example of those.
We have talked about safeguards and the bill has safeguards for celebrants, both religious and belief celebrants. We are not forcing anyone. The bill is about religious freedom, because it will allow certain religions to opt in or to opt out: they do not need to do same-sex marriages and nobody is forcing anyone. I have two sons who are both married and neither of them will feel less married if my brother can get married to his partner. That kind of argument is ridiculous.
I am a bit older than some of the earlier speakers who gave very eloquent speeches, such as Ruth Davidson, Marco Biagi and Kevin Stewart. I remember what it was like for people who were gay when I was growing up, although we did not really know who they were, because they were in the shadows. My brother Michael was 15 when he came out, but the situation was so bad in Glasgow and Scotland at the time that he never came out to us. He waited until he was 17, then he went down to London and started a new life. He met a guy and went over to Portugal with him. He had to do that because of the Scotland that we lived in at the time, yet people say that we should not be moving on.
The bill is a good thing. There are no losers in this; there are only winners. I completely understand that people have different views. I completely understand that people with a religious perspective might have concerns about the bill. The interesting thing for me is that Michael was more religious than me and kept his faith much longer than I did, even though he was being discriminated against by his church. Religion should not be a barrier to accepting the bill, which is highly important legislation.
Michael created a life for himself outwith his homeland. He is in Portugal with his partner of 39 years. I am delighted to say that I phoned him up last night and said, “Michael, guess what I’m doing? I’m going to use you in a speech in the Parliament tomorrow.” He said “Oh, again. Right.” So, he is comfortable with it.
He told me a wee while ago that he was thinking of getting married. He and his partner have been together for 39 years, which is a fairly long engagement, but they have decided that now is probably the time to get married. I suspect that part of the reason for that is that none of us is getting any younger, so they are looking to make sure that everything is right for when one of them goes, and so on. It is great that they are getting married but, unfortunately, they have to do it in Lisbon.
I hope that any member of my family, or anybody I know of a younger generation who is homosexual—gay or lesbian—will be able to get married in Scotland. I do not know whether the party whip is in the chamber. He is. Hello, Joe, I will speak to you. I will be looking for that day off to go to Lisbon to see my brother getting married. It would be much easier if he was getting married in Glasgow or Edinburgh. The bill is a great thing.
When I spoke to my brother last night, I said to him that I was going to use him in this speech and he said to me, “Oh? Okay. Coincidentally, James, I’m going in tomorrow to sign the papers so that we can organise the day that the marriage gets celebrated.” His marriage is coming soon and same-sex marriage will be coming soon in this country. I am confident that we will vote yes tonight and I am confident that when we get to stage 3 the bill will become law. Scotland will be a much better place for it.
As an MSP representing the large, diverse and multicultural region of Glasgow, I believe that it is part of my duty to tackle prejudice, intolerance and discrimination in all forms, not only because prejudice impacts on the lives of those who experience it, but because it holds us back as a nation.
The passing of the bill will have both legal and symbolic significance for LGBT people and their families, who are often on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination. As Ruth Davidson said in her eloquent speech, recent research tells us that one in four young people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual have seriously contemplated or attempted suicide. That figure is a disgrace in modern Scotland. I truly believe that by eliminating some remaining differences, we can remove the stigma that affects so many of our young people.
As has been mentioned, access to civil partnerships was a huge, commendable step forward, but it ensured that a division between same-sex and mixed-sex couples carried on into the 21st century. I believe that opening up the institution of marriage would achieve true legal equality for the first time. I recognise that equality does not mean that we all have to be the same, but in my view it means sharing the institution of marriage with those who have suffered discrimination, oppression and persecution for centuries.
I also believe that the principle of equality should be extended to heterosexual couples who would like their relationship to be recognised in a different way. I have argued that civil partnerships should be extended to mixed-sex couples who choose to celebrate their relationship in a civil or secular ceremony outside of traditional marriage. As a consequence of denying heterosexual people access to civil partnerships, we are, once again, segregating couples based on their sexual orientation. That is outdated and it is something that the bill should seek to remove fully from our society.
I recognise that the proposal of same-sex marriage is challenging to many people of faith and to some of our religious organisations. I have Christian values and I understand the view that marriage is an institution specific to the relationship between one man and one woman. Although I do not share that view, I passionately believe that those who hold it should be free to express it. That is why I am reassured to note that no religious organisation will be forced to perform same-sex marriages against its will and that religious freedoms will be protected by the bill.
Attitudes are changing. In Parliaments throughout the world, greater recognition for same-sex couples is high on the agenda. We should not be left behind on the issue and I look forward to being part of the Parliament that brought this long overdue legislation to the people of Scotland.
Presiding Officer, I thank you for the opportunity to take part in the debate.
I have been contacted by a large proportion of my constituents about the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, the majority of whom are opposed to the bill. My constituent Ronnie Mathieson questions why we are redefining a word—marriage—that once meant one thing to mean something different. He suggests that all previous literature, text books, records, legislation, poetry, plays, songs and so on will have to be dated and have footnotes to explain the change of Scottish terminology. He suggested in an email to me that there already appears to be a legal challenge to the watertight safeguards in the similar English legislation. Will this bill be watertight? I do not think so, and many others repeat that observation.
I heard from my constituent Mrs Morris, who is concerned that people who do not support same-sex marriage will suffer in the workplace. Other constituents, such as Ms Young, have concerns that ministers of religion could be prosecuted for refusing to marry same-sex couples.
I asked the cabinet secretary about adoption earlier. I had a letter from my constituent Anne McCool, who said:
“I would ask you to look very carefully at the introduction of safeguards for people who believe in the existing definition of marriage. There is a danger that foster carers or adopters may be classed as unsuitable because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. The government’s suggested solutions for fostering guidance is not good enough. I would be grateful if you would highlight the following concerns.
(A) That a clause be inserted in the Bill that views on the nature of marriage should not be considered during the approval process for foster carers and adopters
(B) That a statutory safeguard should be introduced into the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill to ensure that what people think about same-sex marriage does not influence decisions on their applications to be adoptive parents.”
As I said earlier, 30 years ago I was an adoptive parent and, because of my views, I do not think that I would have passed.
No. I do not have time.
My wife’s minister, the Rev Derek Hughes, recently emailed us stating that, as the bill stands, it will place supporters of traditional marriage in conflict with equality laws. He went on to say that, at the very least, amendments need to be introduced to the bill to protect ministers, chaplains, teachers and registrars, among others, who will find themselves in an uncomfortable situation when forced to choose between their deeply held religious views and the proposed new law.
In light of that, many of my constituents feel that the section of the bill that is meant to be designed to protect those who speak out against same-sex marriage is not fit for purpose and should be amended to specify clearly that it is not against the law to criticise same-sex marriage.
Rest assured that, when the bill is passed, it will be tested to the limit. Adoption will be tested, and people who want to adopt will be questioned on their views, as I suggested earlier.
I remind members about the response to the specific question in the Scottish Government’s consultation on whether same-sex marriage should be allowed. Some 64 per cent of responses from within Scotland said that it should not be. Furthermore, the Scotland for Marriage petition, which opposes the redefinition of marriage, has recently passed the 53,000 signature mark. That demonstrates the enormous strength of feeling on the issue. Based on the figures that have been given to members, Scotland does not support the bill.
I know that the bill will be passed eventually, but that does not prevent me from voicing my constituents’ concerns. I intend to vote against the bill, conscious of the fact that I have stood up for my constituents and presented their views.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I apologise to you and the cabinet secretary for missing the opening remarks.
I am a member of the committee that put together the report, which reflects a wide range of views. It is very important that all voices are heard.
My colleague John Mason, who is also a member of the committee, talked about the importance of the bill in negative terms, if I heard him correctly. For me, there is little more important than equality and fairness and, for that reason, I fully endorse the bill.
A number of members have talked about changed attitudes. That is reflected in attitudes to gender, disability, race and sexual orientation. As a police officer who commenced work in the mid-1970s, I learned laws about homosexuality that seem bizarre and are totally unacceptable nowadays.
The Equality Network’s recent briefing says that marriage equality “matters to LGBT people”. That is very apparent, and we have heard powerful testimonies from Ruth Davidson, Marco Biagi, Kevin Stewart, Jim Eadie and other members.
I have received many communications from people of faith and I hope that I showed that I was respectful of their views. Those views were clearly individual ones. There were individual interpretations individually made from self-selected sources.
I am sure that the faith groups recognise that attitudes have changed, not least to things such as mixed-race marriages and divorcees. If members check the Official Report, they will see that Professor John Curtice talked about the
“liberalisation of attitudes even among regular worshippers.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 19 September 2013; c 1518.]
It is clear that there is no requirement to marry same-sex couples and that protection is afforded to faith groups by article 9 of the ECHR. I, for one, commend the legislative co-operation with the UK Government on aspects of that. I hope that faith groups will participate at some future point, and I commend the humanists, Quakers, Unitarians, liberal Jews and others.
Not much has been said about registrars; I thought that more would have been said about them. They are public servants and should complete public duty. We would not tolerate people saying that they would not participate in conducting a mixed-race marriage so, frankly, they need to get on with it.
There has been a lot of talk about the nature of communications. Unlike Margaret Mitchell, I have not found opponents to be inhibited in any way in their contact with me. I have received individually written letters, mass postcards and personal representations. Some people have strange obsessions with physical acts. I found reading about some of them to be very uncomfortable. Like many others today, I got a communication that started, “Dear Frequent Sinner”. Uniquely, however, when I tried to explain things to someone in the range of other parliamentary work, I got back, “Nice work, Satan.” It is important to recognise that there are genuine, strongly held views on both sides and that those remarks are not representative of all the faith organisations.
Other members have touched on the issues that the Scottish Transgender Alliance raised; time will not permit me to go into them. I commend the cabinet secretary for his comment that he will think further about those issues. There are a number of issues and they are challenging to discuss, not least the age aspect, but I was reassured by what I heard from the cabinet secretary at the Equal Opportunities Committee and I look forward to those issues being addressed.
The future will not be without challenges, but it must be without prejudice. The bill will make Scotland fairer and more equal and, I hope, an enlightened and inclusive nation. Equality in love, and the opportunity for that love to be publicly displayed via marriage, must trump intolerance and inequality, and that will happen if we support the general principles of the bill tonight.
Few matters in politics today have evoked such emotive engagement as the issue of same-sex marriage. Engagement has taken place at all levels and indeed across all parts of Scottish society. It has taken place between constituents and their elected representatives, between those elected representatives and, of course, between the people of Scotland. Wherever that engagement has taken place, we have found passionate, profound and deeply held views on all sides of the debate.
I speak today as a Church of Scotland elder as well as a Conservative. I therefore understand the anxiety that the proposals for same-sex marriage are causing churches and religious groups across Scotland, but I also understand and share the desire for religion to remain relevant in our modern, 21st century, progressive society. Religion is not, after all, afraid of change. It has responded in the past to changing conditions and standards, and the religions that many of us celebrate and enjoy in our lives today are products of the environment that they operate in.
We do not even have to go back as far as Leviticus and its proclamations on footballs made of pig skin, beard trimming and bowl-shaped haircuts to prove that point. In the New Testament, Mark is seemingly unequivocal in his opposition to divorce, as is Timothy in his prohibition of the wearing of pearls and gold. Religion has moved on from those times. Indeed, it has done so repeatedly, time and time again, and when it did it was right that the state recognised and facilitated that evolution. That is a point that I would like to stress.
I have heard opposition to the same-sex marriage proposals on the basis that they represent an unjustified and unwarranted interference in the affairs of religion by the Government, or by the state. That could not be further from being the case. If religions do not want to embrace this gradual tide of change, they will not be forced to do so. If anything, the bill will give religions greater freedom and greater autonomy by allowing them to pursue the agenda and the pace of change that they believe to be right when it comes to same-sex marriage.
If the change is no change, that would be, in my view, a sad state of affairs. I believe that our country, our society and our religions would be worse off for that, but I recognise that it is a religious and not a political decision. Our role as politicians here today is limited to deciding whether we should enable that process of change, whatever it may be, to occur. I believe that such change is not only right but inevitable. Religion and the church do not exist in a vacuum. Indeed, they cannot if they are to remain relevant in our society and to continue to act as a credible force for good in our world.
That is why I urge those who oppose the proposals that we are debating tonight to seriously and critically examine the reasons for their opposition to same-sex marriage and to ask themselves whether they want their religion, their church and their society to fail to embrace change, the time for which has surely come.
Will the member also acknowledge that most marriages that are conducted in Scotland are already civil or indeed conducted by the Humanist Society, and so even those who have concerns about the impact on religion should be supporting the bill because of the opportunity for people to have civil marriages on the basis of equality?
That is my point. The bill allows the religions and the churches to opt in or opt out as they require and as they want, and to develop at their own pace.
It remains my view that the proposal is about consistency more than it is about equality. Marriage is permitted for one set of individuals, and there has to be a very good reason if we are to exclude another set of individuals. I believe that, in order to be consistent, and because society accepts same-sex relationships, there is no good reason to exclude them from marriage—certainly not on the basis of what sex the person whom someone falls in love with happens to be.
When I travel around my constituency and visit schools or meet young constituents, the idea of opposition to the bill is met with what I can only describe as bafflement. My experience has been that the younger generation supports the proposal’s aims in overwhelming numbers. If religion does not evolve, and if the state does not allow it to evolve when it wants to do so, we risk excluding those younger voices from a tradition that is woven intrinsically into the basic fabric of our society. In his eloquent speech in the debate on same-sex marriage in the House of Lords, the Earl of Courtown warned of the danger and implored his fellow peers to
“allow the next generation not to reject the traditions of yesteryear but to build the traditions of the future.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 June 2013; c 1042.]
His words are as true here as they were in Westminster.
Our society has found itself at similar crossroads before now. In the past 20 years we have debated, passionately and often robustly, section 28, the lowering of the age of consent, gay adoptions and civil partnerships. In each case, I am proud that our progressive democratic tradition eventually prevailed. Today, we in the Scottish Parliament have the opportunity to add our voices to that tradition and the privilege of contributing to our society’s progress.
I will vote for the bill. It is the right thing to do for our country, it is the right thing to do for our church, and it is the right thing to do to strengthen the wonderful institution of marriage.
In the main, this has been a good and mature debate. I was struck by many of the speeches, as I am sure that many members were. Some members spoke from a very personal perspective and others made humorous speeches. I have no time to mention them all, but I will attempt to cover some of the territory.
Ruth Davidson was right when she said that marriage is a good thing—I have been married for almost 30 years, and I keep telling myself that it is a good thing. She was right to talk about the value of extending marriage as an institution. She made a personal and powerful contribution to the debate, which should give us all pause for thought. What we do tonight matters for the future nature of our country and for our young people.
Marco Biagi talked about how he felt as he grew up. I know the area where he grew up, and it can sometimes be pretty unforgiving. He talked about how he was made to feel different and somehow less deserving. His testimony of his personal journey richly informed our debate.
I will disagree with Mary Fee, which is always a dangerous thing to do. She said that attitudes are changing at a snail’s pace. I think that she is wrong. Society’s attitudes are changing much faster than we are able to keep up with them. In the 2002 Scottish social attitudes survey, 41 per cent of people were in favour of same-sex marriage. By 2010, a mere eight years later, 61 per cent favoured same-sex marriage. A 20 per cent shift in opinion, on any issue, in such a short time is hugely significant.
John Mason talked about the importance of tolerating different points of view. Our debates in the Parliament are often robust, and rightly so, but we need to move forward together. His concern, which is shared by some people inside and outside the Parliament, is that the protections are not sufficiently robust. I might well think that they are sufficiently robust, but I know that the cabinet secretary will want to look at the matter, so that we are assured that the provisions that he makes with the UK Government to amend the Equality Act 2010 are indeed sufficiently robust.
However, I am mindful that in the 10 European countries that I listed earlier—the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, France, and, most recently, England and Wales—which have all passed same-sex marriage laws, no religious or belief body or celebrant has been forced to conduct a same-sex marriage. I accept that same-sex marriage legislation was introduced only recently in England and Wales, but no such claim can be made of the other countries. Same-sex marriage legislation was passed in the Netherlands in 2001, in Belgium in 2003 and in Spain in 2005—I could go on, but just in the countries that I mentioned the laws were passed 12 years ago, 10 years ago and eight years ago respectively, which is quite a period over which to be able to judge whether the protections are sufficiently robust and whether any church or celebrant has been forced to do something.
Many countries are moving in the direction of wanting to ensure that there is more equality and are taking appropriate steps forward, but ultimately it is a matter of equality. Of course we need to ensure that protections are in place, but that does not remove the need to ensure that we operate as an equal nation.
Some members, such as Elaine Smith, Richard Lyle and Margaret Mitchell, have spoken against the bill. I respect their right to hold a different view, but I think that they are—quite simply—wrong. Margaret McCulloch spoke about agreeing to differ, and Joan McAlpine rightly picked up on that theme.
Our society is actually quite mature. We do not always agree with one another—one needs only to look at the chamber to see the truth of that—but we can walk out of the chamber and still work together.
I have listened with interest to the vast majority of this afternoon’s debate. Does Ms Baillie agree that the debate is not about the competing interests of traditional and modern views of marriage? The reason why I will vote yes this evening is that this piece of legislation allows everyone’s views of marriage to be reflected in statute in Scotland.
I could not agree more. Jim Eadie, like Bob Doris, set out—in a very powerful speech—how the bill will expand freedom for belief organisations that want to marry same-sex couples, and how it will strengthen marriage. I agree completely with Bob Doris, which must be a first for him.
Drew Smith and Patrick Harvie spoke about repealing section 28 and our pride in doing so; I thank Drew for making me feel old and reminding me that he was at school then. He is right to remember that the repeal of section 28 was not without consequences—often serious—for members of the LGBT community, as they had to deal with some of the hysteria and homophobic bullying that surrounded it. We need to ensure that that does not happen again.
James Dornan mentioned the bill’s ability to strengthen marriage and spoke about the experience of his brother Michael; we all look forward to receiving our invitations to the wedding in Lisbon, now that we know about it.
The debate has been extraordinarily interesting. Elaine Murray and Patrick Harvie remarked on how extraordinary it was that there was agreement across the chamber—indeed, Patrick noted that it was probably the first time that he has applauded Ruth Davidson with such enthusiasm. That may well be true for many of us. It is not often that I find myself in complete agreement with Alex Neil and Mark McDonald—and even, for goodness’ sake, Kevin Stewart; it must be a truly historic day.
Elaine Murray was right to remind us about the glorious diversity of human beings, even those whom she described as being vertically challenged. We are all different, and that is what makes us all so interesting. Whatever that difference is, we should be tolerant of one another, but we should respect and celebrate our difference, because that is the tapestry of our nation.
For me, and for many members on all sides of the chamber, the legislation is about equality, fairness, social justice and values that I believe we all share. I know that some may be hesitating tonight, but I ask them to think for a moment. What if your son or daughter is unsure about their sexuality? What if they have a same-sex partner? Do you really want to deny them the opportunity to marry? I hope not.
I urge all members to support the general principles of the bill to ensure that the next generation can marry the person they love.
That will not be a problem, Presiding Officer.
I begin by reminding the Parliament what the Equal Opportunities Committee said in its report. The committee hoped that members of the Parliament would
“approach the Stage 1 decision with the same dignified tenor as our evidence sessions and with due respect for a diversity of views.”
Everybody who has spoken has tried to live up to that ideal, and I think that this has been one of the most powerful debates that the Parliament has ever held. It is a real tribute to the Parliament.
We have heard some wonderful speeches, from Ruth Davidson and many others, some of which have been very powerful indeed, putting the case for the bill. There have also been powerful speeches putting the case against.
I will begin by dealing with two fairly fundamental points that have been raised by those who do not feel that they can vote for the bill tonight. First, I emphasise that there are essentially two aspects to marriage: there is the religious aspect and there is the state law aspect. What we are dealing with tonight is the state law aspect of marriage. We believe that the state should recognise marriage between same-sex couples as well as between mixed-sex couples.
The bill does not in any way interfere with any religious or belief body’s approach to marriage. Indeed, there is only one way in which it even touches on it, and that is that churches and other religious organisations such as the Unitarians and the Quakers will now be able to have same-sex marriages, which they want to carry out, carried out on their premises under their religion. Those marriages will now be recognised by the state. Beyond that, the proposed legislation has no other impact on marriage as carried out by, defined by, exercised by or recognised by such bodies.
Secondly, we are not redefining marriage. I refer to Mary Fee’s point, and I have heard the First Minister say this—and many of us would agree: the bill does not in any way redefine our marriage. It does extend the eligibility for marriage, which is the key point of the proposed legislation. People in Scotland who have been ineligible for marriage will now be eligible for marriage and for that marriage, and the love that it represents, to be recognised by the state and by those religious bodies—and only those religious bodies—who want to recognise those marriages out of their own choice.
I wish to put down a marker in this debate. A substantial number of my constituents in the Highlands and Islands have expressed to me their concerns that sections that are designed to protect teachers, parents, ministers, foster parents, registrars and public sector workers who hold what I could call traditional views will not be strong enough and that they might be open to legal challenge, including at European level.
What specific guarantees can the minister give that legal safeguards will be watertight? My constituents are very anxious for that reassurance. Can the minister give it to them?
Absolutely. Let me explain exactly why.
We are giving four sets of guarantees. First, there are the guarantees in the proposed legislation itself. Probably the biggest single guarantee is that, in order to carry out same-sex marriage, any religious organisation, belief organisation or celebrant has to opt in. It is their decision to opt in, and they obviously cannot be forced to opt in.
That is the case not just for the organisation. As the bill states, if, for example, the Church of Scotland changed its mind and agreed to recognise, participate in and carry out same-sex marriages, but its own celebrants—its own ministers—did not wish to do so, those ministers would still have the right not to opt in.
The rights of the organisation, religious body or belief body, as well as those of the individual celebrant, are absolutely guaranteed under the bill, which is totally compatible with the European convention on human rights. If it had not been, the Presiding Officer would not have approved it as competent proposed legislation.
Secondly—and on top of that—there are the amendments that we have agreed with Jamie McGrigor’s own UK Government. Maria Miller and I have been working very closely on this matter, and we have agreed amendments to the Equality Act 2010 that will underline all the relevant protections for those who take a different view or do not want to participate in same-sex marriages. In fact, some aspects actually go slightly further than the protections that were built in during the passage of the UK legislation.
The third protection is in relation to education. My friend the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is at this very moment consulting on the legislation’s impact on educational guidance. He will announce the outcome of that consultation within the next two to three months.
The final protection is the Lord Advocate’s guidance to all prosecutors in Scotland, which has already been published and which absolutely, explicitly and unequivocally guarantees the rights of those people who are opposed to the principle of same-sex marriage and those who do not wish to participate in or carry out such marriages.
In short, we are providing not just one but four sets of protections specifically for this legislation. I believe that to be a very reasonable balance between extending the freedom and rights of those who are entitled to marry and extending and guaranteeing protections for those who disagree with the policy and do not wish to carry out same-sex marriages.
Like John Lamont, I speak as an elder of the Church of Scotland and I propose to vote for the bill this evening.
I am concerned about the level of protection afforded to, say, an individual celebrant from a religious community that has opted in but who chooses to opt out. As I read it, the relevant amendment to the Equality Act 2010 says that a person controlling the use of religious or belief premises will not contravene the act by refusing to allow the premises to be used for a same-sex marriage or a civil partnership.
However, we might be talking not about a person within the Church of Scotland but about a collective entity such as a congregational board. It might also be that, after a request to participate in a same-sex marriage is declined, a subsequent request to use the church premises for a reception is also declined. Is that also covered by this protection?
Yes, it is and I must also inform the chamber that I intend to issue the legal text of the proposed amendments to the 2010 act before the completion of stage 2. Obviously, we have to agree the legal text with the lawyers in London as well as the lawyers here, but if members look at the protections in our bill alongside the text of the amendments to the 2010, they will see that the protections are unequivocally unchallengeable with regard to the individuals and the churches in question. Indeed, the protections extend to organists, who are essential to a church ceremony. If an organist turns round and says, “I refuse to play the organ at a same-sex marriage ceremony”, they, too, will be protected from any prosecution. This is the most comprehensive set of protections imaginable for any piece of legislation that we have ever introduced.
As a result—and I thank Jackie Baillie for emphasising this point—I think that we have achieved a balanced package. On the one hand, we are extending the freedom and rights of those who wish to engage in same-sex marriage and, on the other, we are putting in place all these protections for people who are either against it in principle or who do not want to participate.
We are very clear that there is no chance of a successful appeal to the European Court. Apart from anything else, the European convention on human rights does not give someone the right to same-sex marriage in the first place. There are also other reasons, which I do not have time to go into tonight, why we are absolutely sure that any appeal to the European Court would not be successful.
In summary, I believe that the bill is—as Jackie Baillie and others have said—a balanced package that allows freedom and rights to be exercised by those who at present cannot exercise them, without in any way diminishing or threatening the rights and freedoms of those who take a different point of view.
More importantly, as many speakers have pointed out, it is not the text of the bill that matters but the message that it sends out about 21st-century Scotland. We are joining those 16 states in America, those nine European countries, our friends south of the border and all the other countries, including South Africa, that have already passed legislation to provide a modern framework of legislation relating to marriage that recognises the equality of all our people. As Rabbie said, we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns, and all the bairns are entitled to exactly the same treatment throughout our law, now including marriage law.
This is a historic day for Scotland. Future generations will look back and congratulate the Parliament on passing this progressive piece of legislation. [Applause.]