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around 60 responses and are currently considering the points that have been made by those who have commented on the draft guidance.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.