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 Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I am pleased to speak in the stage 1 debate on the bill.

I am not a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, but I have opposed discrimination that is based on people’s sexual orientation since I was a student, which was about 40 years ago. That was in the bleak and inhospitable place that Jim Eadie just spoke about, where sex between men was still illegal, where lesbianism was not recognised because—apparently—Queen Victoria did not think that it could happen, where same-sex partners rarely dared to express their affection publicly, where coming out to the family was a major difficulty for many gay people, and where the popular terminology that was used to describe gay people was derogatory and offensive. I found all that to be totally abhorrent, as were apartheid and racial segregation, which existed at the same time.

I have had many representations on the bill from constituents, many of whom have been supportive and many who oppose the bill. To constituents who have asked me to vote against the bill because it redefines marriage, I apologise, but I do not agree with their arguments, and I will explain why. To those who told me that they will not vote for me—well, that is their prerogative.

The view that marriage is solely the union of a man and a woman for procreation is outdated and simplistic; there has always been a lot more to marriage than that. For monarchs and powerful families, marriage created and cemented alliances. For others, it represented respectability and the division of labour and responsibilities between men and women. Until recently, as Jim Eadie said, women were the possessions of their husbands. Marriage signified that the woman belonged to the man so that no one else could have a sexual relationship with her and the man could be sure that the children were his.

In these more egalitarian times, marriage is a public declaration of love and of the intention that the relationship will be permanent. It might or might not involve children. If it does, those children might or might not be the biological children of both or either of the parents. Many of us—myself included—have been married more than once; indeed, my oldest lad was at my second wedding. Many other people have stable long-term relationships and bring up their families without feeling the need to be married. Many families consist of one parent bringing up their children with the support of relatives and friends.

The bill will enable people of the same gender who want to make that public declaration of love and permanence in a religious ceremony that reflects their faith to do so. I also support the Government’s proposal for an opt-in process and I welcome the assurances that have been given. However, some of my constituents’ representations have expressed concern about possible discrimination against people of faith. The cabinet secretary talked about circulating letters to certain members; I wonder whether he could circulate that information to all MSPs so that we can offer reassurance to constituents who have been in touch with us.

Other members have reflected on how far we have come in the past 40 years. If someone had told me 40 years ago that a Conservative Prime Minister in the UK Parliament would promote equal marriage, I simply would not have believed them. I am proud of Scotland’s journey, I am proud that more than 60 per cent of Scots now agree with equal marriage, and I am proud that three quarters of those who responded to the committee’s consultation also agree.

As a young woman, I read books that described the experiences of gay people, including Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness” and Gore Vidal’s “The City and the Pillar”. They were stories of tragedy, but the story of being LGBT today should no longer be a tragedy.

I remind people who say that civil partnerships should be enough of the 1976 hit by the Tom Robinson Band “(Sing if You’re) Glad to be Gay”, which, despite its cheerful title, spoke of police harassment, beatings, and insults, and ended with—I will not say the word—the b’s

“are legal now; what more are they after?”

Well, like most people, they want equality.

I will support the bill at stage 1 and I hope that it makes its way through Parliament into legislation. It will not mean the end of discrimination against LGBT people, but it will be an expression by this Parliament of the will to treat people equally and not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or the sexual identity that a person is born with.

When I was young, people used to think that being LGBT was a choice, or something their mum or their school did, but people are born that way. A person who is born LGBT does not make the choice to be that, any more than I made the choice to grow to only five foot one. [Applause.]