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 Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I do not have time.

There are wider implications and consequences, both intended and unintended. Aidan O’Neill QC’s legal opinion says that parents with children in faith schools could be affected, and teachers, chaplains, registrars and other public sector workers may be subject to disciplinary action.

Despite Government promises, no additional measures have as yet been included to safeguard freedom of speech and religion. The Lord Advocate’s guidance to prosecutors for those who oppose same-sex marriage also gives cause for concern and suggests the expectation of legal challenges.

As the constituency MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, I have been approached by hundreds of constituents who have asked me, either individually or as part of the numerous local religious organisations, to vote against the bill. It does not seem that many members will speak against it, but MSPs have a responsibility to ensure to the best of their ability that they are not introducing legislation that will have consequences—albeit perhaps unintended—that will negatively impact on society.

Some members may believe that, as a result of signing a pledge, they must support the bill. Indeed, it is worrying that the director of the Equality Network claimed in Holyrood magazine a few weeks ago that

“Over two-thirds of MSPs have now signed the Equality Network’s ‘Equal Marriage Pledge’ committing themselves to voting in favour of same-sex marriage.”

It is important to clarify that signing a pledge and voting for legislation are two very different things. Members signed that pledge before they set eyes on the legislation or before they scrutinised the proposal. The bill may well have detrimental consequences for many people, and their representatives need to be clear about that when they vote.

The committee report deals with the oral evidence, but it seems to be silent on the vast amounts of written evidence, including mine. In my submission, I cited Professor Tom Gallagher, who is a gay man who lives with his partner of 31 years and is the author of “Divided Scotland: Ethnic Friction & Christian Crisis”. He had hoped to give oral evidence, but he was not called. He would like his remarks to be put on the record. He said:

“The arrival of gay marriage only benefits a small group of activists, who have the ear of part of the media, the civil service & of politicians who naively think there are a few votes in it for them. Some gays and lesbians feel they have been hi-jacked by these campaigners. Many more are bound to be upset by the hurt caused to un-bigoted fellow citizens as they see one of mankind’s most important social structures—marriage—become a battleground in schools & almost certainly the courts. This is no liberation for gay Scots: instead it creates unnecessary distrust between them and a large swathe of the population.”