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 Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for the privilege of taking part in this debate. I also thank several of the speakers who have given a very personal take on the issue—Kevin Stewart, Marco Biagi and, in particular, Ruth Davidson. In 10 years as a member of the Parliament, I have never so enthusiastically applauded a Conservative speech. I am always open to a new experience, of course.

Members might be a little surprised that my personal circumstances place me in what I regard as impeccably neutral territory on the issue: I am single, I am bisexual, I have no idea whether I will have a long-term relationship with a man or a woman in future and I have no idea whether I would want to get married. Certainly, I do not personally regard marriage as a gold standard; I regard it as one of the many options on family status that people will make a choice between on the basis of their values and not the values that we would impose on them.

The arguments that we have heard against the bill have been many and varied. Some have been frankly spurious and silly, such as the one that goes, “Well, you know, you can get married already, just to somebody of the opposite sex.” I cannot believe how frequently I have heard that nonsensical and demeaning argument.

Some arguments have been mischievous. There have been deliberate attempts to whip up ungrounded fears about ministers in the Church of Scotland being dragged off by the police, taken to the courts and prosecuted for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Some of the arguments against the legislation have simply been curious, such as the view that, from the starting point of religious freedom, the law ought to tell churches who they may not be allowed to marry. It seems to me that the argument for religious freedom must be in favour of what the Government is trying to achieve with the bill, which is to permit but not compel.

Some arguments against the legislation are serious and we should not ignore them—quite the contrary. There has been serious opposition to pretty much every step that has been taken in the equalities story over many generations. Certain voices have opposed every step towards LGBT equality, from decriminalisation onwards. Those serious arguments absolutely must not be ignored but must be confronted and defeated because they assert, whether in religious or other terms, the lesser worth, dignity, status or value of LGBT people and our relationships. Those arguments should and deserve to be defeated. In more than 20 years of volunteering, working or campaigning on many of those issues, I have in all honesty never heard a coherent moral argument in favour of the view that same-sex relationships are of lesser worth or status or that they are morally wrong. I have heard many such arguments rooted in homophobia but none in a coherent moral case.

Some of the arguments that I have heard fall under the heading “I’m not homophobic, but”. That amounts to someone saying that they are not homophobic but they are concerned that one day they might need to treat LGBT people as though they were their equals. On that basis, we have heard demands for so-called protections to be built into the legislation—protections from the indignity of having to treat other people as equals. If we look at the evidence that we heard on the call for those protections, were we to give into the demands, that would amount to a rolling back of 10 or 15 years of legislative and cultural progress towards equality. We should hold the line against those demands absolutely.

I was proud of Scotland’s Parliament—not as a MSP but as a citizen—not only when it repealed section 28 but when it held the line against the forces of social conservatism and homophobia and did not give into the demands for concessions. We should be equally proud today and over the months to come not only of passing the legislation but of holding the line against demands for amendments that would weaken the principle of equality. We should also listen seriously to the calls for amendments on issues that members have mentioned, such as the spousal veto, overseas civil partnerships, gender neutral language and gender recognition for younger people. If we do that, we will deserve the pride of many Scottish citizens when we pass the bill at stage 3.