Members bring a range of experiences, ideas and beliefs to the chamber, but it is always worth reminding ourselves that, although they might not always seem to do so, our debates and judgments affect how real people live their lives, the opportunities that they have and their sense of the value that society places on them.
The issue of equal marriage rights was raised with me during the 2011 election campaign, when I strongly supported the references to it in my party’s manifesto. Nevertheless, I had perhaps not thought through the reasons why I felt that way about it—my response was instinctual. I was first asked my views on the issue a few days after the election and, over time, I have found myself being asked about it more and more often. As I thought more about it and listened to others expressing their views, I came to understand my own feelings about it a bit more clearly. In the course of the wider debate that led up to the introduction of the bill, I remembered someone whom I had not forgotten but the extent of whose influence on the view that I had thought was instinctual I had not realised.
Like the majority of the Scottish population, I strongly support the provisions of the bill. I have also, at various times, pressed the cabinet secretary—and, indeed, his predecessor—to hurry along. Therefore, I am very pleased that we have got to this point and hope that we will follow the example of England and Wales and the many other countries that have created equal marriage. I believe that marriage rights are an issue of equality, and I feel strongly that the current position of civil partnerships, which I supported at the time and was proud of my party for having taken the lead in introducing, is not quite enough. Although there is little difference between civil partnerships and marriage in terms of legal rights, the fact that civil partnerships preclude the right of gay people of faith to commit themselves to each other in a religious service is discriminatory. I hope that one of the major achievements of the bill will be to remove that discrimination.
Equality does not mean that everything must be the same; equally, difference should not be imposed on identical things. Same-sex relationships may be different from opposite-sex relationships, but are all relationships not different and unique? Do they not all share the same basic principle: love for another human being and a desire to commit to spending your life with that person? I do not think that the state has the right to draw a distinction between human partnerships that human beings do not draw themselves, and to me that is fundamentally what the bill is about and why I support it.
In 2000, this Parliament repealed section 28—section 2A—which it did in advance of the rest of the UK. Looking back, we can see that the repeal of section 28 was a victory for equality, but it did not come without cost, just as the years of various discriminatory laws did not come without cost and just as that cost still exists in many parts of the world, as Joan McAlpine rightly highlighted. There are members in the chamber who will have celebrated that victory and they might also recall some of the pain of that debate: the things that were said that can never be unsaid and the people who pushed ahead and, in my view, have never been properly recognised for their efforts.
When section 28 was debated by the Parliament, I was still at school—a religious school—and I recall what was said. I recall talking to classmates about the leaflets that were going through our parents’ doors, the newspaper headlines and the things that were said on the school bus.
I mentioned that I thought of someone in the context of this debate. I remember a girl—a young woman—in my year at school, who one evening appeared on the TV news, which was rather unexpected. She spoke out and, to many of us, she became the first person we knew to come out. She did it by asking a very simple and powerful question: what right do others have to make a judgement about me and my life or to make a distinction about who I am and what I am? That was in the context of the section 28 debate.
There are many things that I could say about the detail of the bill, and others are rightly saying them. I celebrate the fact that this may be the last major legal change required to remove discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people from our law, and I am very privileged to be in this place, at this time, to support it. I will follow the amendments at stage 2 and I will support efforts to improve the bill. It is probably not the last major piece of legislation for transgender people, but it is a significant step on the way.
I will oppose any change to the bill that could threaten a new section 28, however well intentioned people may be on that issue. I do not want a situation in which there is a campaign to come back to the bill because of a section that is inserted at stage 2.
I do not know whether the woman that I mentioned has sent one of us an email asking us to support this legislation or if she has put her activism behind her.