I am a member of the committee that put together the report, which reflects a wide range of views. It is very important that all voices are heard.
My colleague John Mason, who is also a member of the committee, talked about the importance of the bill in negative terms, if I heard him correctly. For me, there is little more important than equality and fairness and, for that reason, I fully endorse the bill.
A number of members have talked about changed attitudes. That is reflected in attitudes to gender, disability, race and sexual orientation. As a police officer who commenced work in the mid-1970s, I learned laws about homosexuality that seem bizarre and are totally unacceptable nowadays.
The Equality Network’s recent briefing says that marriage equality “matters to LGBT people”. That is very apparent, and we have heard powerful testimonies from Ruth Davidson, Marco Biagi, Kevin Stewart, Jim Eadie and other members.
I have received many communications from people of faith and I hope that I showed that I was respectful of their views. Those views were clearly individual ones. There were individual interpretations individually made from self-selected sources.
I am sure that the faith groups recognise that attitudes have changed, not least to things such as mixed-race marriages and divorcees. If members check the Official Report, they will see that Professor John Curtice talked about the
“liberalisation of attitudes even among regular worshippers.”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 19 September 2013; c 1518.]
It is clear that there is no requirement to marry same-sex couples and that protection is afforded to faith groups by article 9 of the ECHR. I, for one, commend the legislative co-operation with the UK Government on aspects of that. I hope that faith groups will participate at some future point, and I commend the humanists, Quakers, Unitarians, liberal Jews and others.
Not much has been said about registrars; I thought that more would have been said about them. They are public servants and should complete public duty. We would not tolerate people saying that they would not participate in conducting a mixed-race marriage so, frankly, they need to get on with it.
There has been a lot of talk about the nature of communications. Unlike Margaret Mitchell, I have not found opponents to be inhibited in any way in their contact with me. I have received individually written letters, mass postcards and personal representations. Some people have strange obsessions with physical acts. I found reading about some of them to be very uncomfortable. Like many others today, I got a communication that started, “Dear Frequent Sinner”. Uniquely, however, when I tried to explain things to someone in the range of other parliamentary work, I got back, “Nice work, Satan.” It is important to recognise that there are genuine, strongly held views on both sides and that those remarks are not representative of all the faith organisations.
Other members have touched on the issues that the Scottish Transgender Alliance raised; time will not permit me to go into them. I commend the cabinet secretary for his comment that he will think further about those issues. There are a number of issues and they are challenging to discuss, not least the age aspect, but I was reassured by what I heard from the cabinet secretary at the Equal Opportunities Committee and I look forward to those issues being addressed.
The future will not be without challenges, but it must be without prejudice. The bill will make Scotland fairer and more equal and, I hope, an enlightened and inclusive nation. Equality in love, and the opportunity for that love to be publicly displayed via marriage, must trump intolerance and inequality, and that will happen if we support the general principles of the bill tonight.