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 Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

In the main, this has been a good and mature debate. I was struck by many of the speeches, as I am sure that many members were. Some members spoke from a very personal perspective and others made humorous speeches. I have no time to mention them all, but I will attempt to cover some of the territory.

Ruth Davidson was right when she said that marriage is a good thing—I have been married for almost 30 years, and I keep telling myself that it is a good thing. She was right to talk about the value of extending marriage as an institution. She made a personal and powerful contribution to the debate, which should give us all pause for thought. What we do tonight matters for the future nature of our country and for our young people.

Marco Biagi talked about how he felt as he grew up. I know the area where he grew up, and it can sometimes be pretty unforgiving. He talked about how he was made to feel different and somehow less deserving. His testimony of his personal journey richly informed our debate.

I will disagree with Mary Fee, which is always a dangerous thing to do. She said that attitudes are changing at a snail’s pace. I think that she is wrong. Society’s attitudes are changing much faster than we are able to keep up with them. In the 2002 Scottish social attitudes survey, 41 per cent of people were in favour of same-sex marriage. By 2010, a mere eight years later, 61 per cent favoured same-sex marriage. A 20 per cent shift in opinion, on any issue, in such a short time is hugely significant.

John Mason talked about the importance of tolerating different points of view. Our debates in the Parliament are often robust, and rightly so, but we need to move forward together. His concern, which is shared by some people inside and outside the Parliament, is that the protections are not sufficiently robust. I might well think that they are sufficiently robust, but I know that the cabinet secretary will want to look at the matter, so that we are assured that the provisions that he makes with the UK Government to amend the Equality Act 2010 are indeed sufficiently robust.

However, I am mindful that in the 10 European countries that I listed earlier—the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, France, and, most recently, England and Wales—which have all passed same-sex marriage laws, no religious or belief body or celebrant has been forced to conduct a same-sex marriage. I accept that same-sex marriage legislation was introduced only recently in England and Wales, but no such claim can be made of the other countries. Same-sex marriage legislation was passed in the Netherlands in 2001, in Belgium in 2003 and in Spain in 2005—I could go on, but just in the countries that I mentioned the laws were passed 12 years ago, 10 years ago and eight years ago respectively, which is quite a period over which to be able to judge whether the protections are sufficiently robust and whether any church or celebrant has been forced to do something.