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; 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”,

and that

“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.