We are all hugely influenced by our early experiences. I was fortunate in mine: I come from a conscientious, working-class, Irish Catholic family steeped in social awareness and was taught from an early age that perceived difference mattered not a jot and that we were all Jock Tamson’s bairns.
That maxim has stood me in good stead over the years, and that is why I will support the bill at decision time. It is not because I have had a number of emails that say I should support it. If anything, on balance, I have probably had more against it than for it. I will vote on the basis of what I believe to be right and because of some personal experiences.
This is a huge step for the Parliament and for Scotland. We have talked about the bill being a good thing for the Scottish Parliament, but I think that it is a good thing for the country. We pride ourselves on our values of equality, fairness and social justice, as Jackie Baillie said earlier, and I think that the bill is a perfect example of those.
We have talked about safeguards and the bill has safeguards for celebrants, both religious and belief celebrants. We are not forcing anyone. The bill is about religious freedom, because it will allow certain religions to opt in or to opt out: they do not need to do same-sex marriages and nobody is forcing anyone. I have two sons who are both married and neither of them will feel less married if my brother can get married to his partner. That kind of argument is ridiculous.
I am a bit older than some of the earlier speakers who gave very eloquent speeches, such as Ruth Davidson, Marco Biagi and Kevin Stewart. I remember what it was like for people who were gay when I was growing up, although we did not really know who they were, because they were in the shadows. My brother Michael was 15 when he came out, but the situation was so bad in Glasgow and Scotland at the time that he never came out to us. He waited until he was 17, then he went down to London and started a new life. He met a guy and went over to Portugal with him. He had to do that because of the Scotland that we lived in at the time, yet people say that we should not be moving on.
The bill is a good thing. There are no losers in this; there are only winners. I completely understand that people have different views. I completely understand that people with a religious perspective might have concerns about the bill. The interesting thing for me is that Michael was more religious than me and kept his faith much longer than I did, even though he was being discriminated against by his church. Religion should not be a barrier to accepting the bill, which is highly important legislation.
Michael created a life for himself outwith his homeland. He is in Portugal with his partner of 39 years. I am delighted to say that I phoned him up last night and said, “Michael, guess what I’m doing? I’m going to use you in a speech in the Parliament tomorrow.” He said “Oh, again. Right.” So, he is comfortable with it.
He told me a wee while ago that he was thinking of getting married. He and his partner have been together for 39 years, which is a fairly long engagement, but they have decided that now is probably the time to get married. I suspect that part of the reason for that is that none of us is getting any younger, so they are looking to make sure that everything is right for when one of them goes, and so on. It is great that they are getting married but, unfortunately, they have to do it in Lisbon.
I hope that any member of my family, or anybody I know of a younger generation who is homosexual—gay or lesbian—will be able to get married in Scotland. I do not know whether the party whip is in the chamber. He is. Hello, Joe, I will speak to you. I will be looking for that day off to go to Lisbon to see my brother getting married. It would be much easier if he was getting married in Glasgow or Edinburgh. The bill is a great thing.
When I spoke to my brother last night, I said to him that I was going to use him in this speech and he said to me, “Oh? Okay. Coincidentally, James, I’m going in tomorrow to sign the papers so that we can organise the day that the marriage gets celebrated.” His marriage is coming soon and same-sex marriage will be coming soon in this country. I am confident that we will vote yes tonight and I am confident that when we get to stage 3 the bill will become law. Scotland will be a much better place for it.