Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 20th November 2013.

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Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

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.