The debate is truly historic and long overdue. I am delighted to take part in it as a supporter of LGBT rights. It will also come as no surprise that I will be saying “I do.”
I pay compliments to the Equality Network, the Transgender Alliance, Stonewall Scotland and all the equality groups that played their part in the campaign that now results in the Parliament making its first vote on the bill that will make marriage equal in Scotland. The debate has often been contentious, particularly when played out in the media, and I am sure that all members will be sincere and courteous in their deliberations.
The Scottish Parliament was established to promote the values of social justice and tackle inequality. Since its inception, it has acted against social and moral inequality by repealing section 28, levelling the age of consent, allowing same-sex couples to adopt and foster, and introducing legislation to ensure that LGBT people are protected under hate crime laws. It is only right that we extend to LGBT citizens the rights and freedoms that many of us take for granted each day.
I ask the opponents of the bill who comment that civil partnerships were introduced for LGBT people whether the suffragettes were happy when the Representation of the People Act 1918 was introduced, allowing women over 30 to vote. No, they were not. They fought for a further decade to enfranchise all women and equalise the voting ages of men and women.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples who wish to marry should be able to do so. They should not be told that they must accept the current two-tier discriminatory system. Adapting our marriage laws will end that discrimination with no impact on any other marriage.
Our society has become increasingly liberal since 1999, and attitudes towards the LGBT community are changing, even if it sometimes feels as though they are doing so at a snail’s pace. Support for equal marriage is at an all-time high, and my vote will represent the majority of correspondence that I have received from constituents in West Scotland.
Although it is widely recognised and documented that attitudes are changing, the levels of stigma and discrimination towards LGBT people remain unacceptably high. Like many, I believe that same-sex marriage will help to tackle and reduce prejudice.
I will address the specifics of the bill and the Equal Opportunities Committee’s stage 1 report. Changes still need to be made and it is likely that amendments will be lodged that improve the opportunity to increase equality. However, I welcome the consideration of the Scottish Government and the Equal Opportunities Committee to report on issues such as gender recognition difficulties faced by long-term transitioned people and civil partnerships performed in another country.
The committee report also raises questions about the meaning and purpose of marriage. Those who are against the bill argue that the complementarity of a man and a woman is the basis of marriage, but that suggests that the basis of marriage is really about procreating. As we know all too well, the ability to create a child does not automatically create a perfect parent or, indeed, an ideal family unit. It seems that some people are living in a different society from the rest of us, and outdated values give no justice to the children of today.
As I said earlier, we have become more liberal. The number of single-parent families is increasing, and they are becoming more accepted as the norm. Suggesting that marriage is the basis for a stable environment for raising a family adds to the stigma that many single parents feel and it does no service to the tremendous work and support that many single-parent families do and give every week.
Marriage is a commitment between two loving and consenting adults; whether to have children after being married, or indeed before or never, is a decision solely for the couple, no matter how the family is created. The legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt, which came into force in 2009, was long overdue, but it gave the right to offer a child a safe, stable and loving home.
Having been married for 36 years and having raised two children, I strive to understand how introducing the bill takes anything away from my marriage. I agreed with the First Minister, for probably the first and perhaps the last time, when he stated at the Scottish Government Cabinet meeting in Renfrew last year:
“I personally struggle to see whose freedoms are being infringed by the move towards this legislation.”
It is right that freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of speech are protected. However, at what point does one person’s freedom override the equality of others? As many supporters of the bill have said, there are enough safeguards for people to express their view, as long as it is not seen to be hateful or discriminatory.
The bill is a step, if not a leap, towards ensuring equal rights for all Scots. I hope that it will add to the important and crucial work carried out to tackle inequality and discrimination. I look forward to casting my vote in support of the bill.