Few matters in politics today have evoked such emotive engagement as the issue of same-sex marriage. Engagement has taken place at all levels and indeed across all parts of Scottish society. It has taken place between constituents and their elected representatives, between those elected representatives and, of course, between the people of Scotland. Wherever that engagement has taken place, we have found passionate, profound and deeply held views on all sides of the debate.
I speak today as a Church of Scotland elder as well as a Conservative. I therefore understand the anxiety that the proposals for same-sex marriage are causing churches and religious groups across Scotland, but I also understand and share the desire for religion to remain relevant in our modern, 21st century, progressive society. Religion is not, after all, afraid of change. It has responded in the past to changing conditions and standards, and the religions that many of us celebrate and enjoy in our lives today are products of the environment that they operate in.
We do not even have to go back as far as Leviticus and its proclamations on footballs made of pig skin, beard trimming and bowl-shaped haircuts to prove that point. In the New Testament, Mark is seemingly unequivocal in his opposition to divorce, as is Timothy in his prohibition of the wearing of pearls and gold. Religion has moved on from those times. Indeed, it has done so repeatedly, time and time again, and when it did it was right that the state recognised and facilitated that evolution. That is a point that I would like to stress.
I have heard opposition to the same-sex marriage proposals on the basis that they represent an unjustified and unwarranted interference in the affairs of religion by the Government, or by the state. That could not be further from being the case. If religions do not want to embrace this gradual tide of change, they will not be forced to do so. If anything, the bill will give religions greater freedom and greater autonomy by allowing them to pursue the agenda and the pace of change that they believe to be right when it comes to same-sex marriage.
If the change is no change, that would be, in my view, a sad state of affairs. I believe that our country, our society and our religions would be worse off for that, but I recognise that it is a religious and not a political decision. Our role as politicians here today is limited to deciding whether we should enable that process of change, whatever it may be, to occur. I believe that such change is not only right but inevitable. Religion and the church do not exist in a vacuum. Indeed, they cannot if they are to remain relevant in our society and to continue to act as a credible force for good in our world.
That is why I urge those who oppose the proposals that we are debating tonight to seriously and critically examine the reasons for their opposition to same-sex marriage and to ask themselves whether they want their religion, their church and their society to fail to embrace change, the time for which has surely come.