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.