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

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.