Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd June 2020.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22115, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I am delighted to open the debate at the final stage of the bill, which will make civil partnership available to mixed-sex couples in Scotland.

When the bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 30 September last year, none of us could have foreseen how unimaginably different the world would be at this stage in the bill’s parliamentary progress.

The bill is about equality and freedom of choice, and it is testament to those values and principles that the bill has continued to make its way through Parliament despite the many difficulties that we have faced in the past few months. I thank the Equalities and Human Rights Committee for its careful examination of the bill and considered stage 1 report. In particular, I thank the parliamentary staff for their support in the process, and I commend them for rising to the challenges of Covid-19 by putting in place new processes that have enabled scrutiny of the bill to continue during the public health emergency. I also thank the bill team and my private office staff, who have supported me through the process and have faced the challenges that we have all had to face when working in different ways during lockdown. I appreciate all that they have done in that respect.

I am heartened to see that the bill enjoys broad consensus across the chamber, and that it went through its initial stages with full cross-party support. Such consensus is all too rare, which shows that the principles of equality and freedom of choice can, and do, transcend everyday politics, and rightly so. Perhaps love in this new form of mixed-sex civil partnership really does conquer all. That view is borne out by the consensus on the bill beyond the chamber. The Humanist Society Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland, Engender, Children in Scotland, the Scottish Unitarian Association, the Equality Network, Stonewall Scotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission all support the extension of civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples. It is clear from evidence that was received at stage 1 and during the Scottish Government’s 2018 consultation on the future of civil partnerships in Scotland that people across the country welcome the bill, too. In his written evidence to the committee, one man said:

“We are thrilled. The passing of this Bill will enable my partner and I to register our ... relationship in a way we find acceptable.”

He went on to make it clear that the benefits of mixed-sex civil partnership go further than simply allowing people to have a relationship that reflects their beliefs. He said:

“By allowing our civil partnership, you will help us provide greater stability to our children and greater certainty for our old age.”

The bill will ensure that such couples have the right to access the relationship that best reflects their beliefs and that will provide security and certainty for their families, if they have them. In doing so, the bill will complete the final piece of the formal relationship jigsaw for Scotland. Marriage is an ancient and universal institution. Recent innovations have changed the landscape of adult relationships, with the creation of civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2004 and the establishment of same-sex marriage in 2014. When the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the law of civil partnership in England and Wales was not compatible with the European convention on human rights, and that it prevented mixed-sex couples from entering civil partnerships, it was clear that the time was right to consider a change in the law of civil partnership in Scotland.

In 2018, we consulted on the future of civil partnerships and it became clear that a bill that extended civil partnership to mixed-sex couples was the right approach. Mixed-sex civil partnership means that all couples in Scotland will have the same choices should they decide that they want a legally recognised relationship.

The bill also either puts in place, or allows regulations to put in place, a comprehensive body of law that governs mixed-sex civil partnerships in Scotland, including eligibility, registration, authorisation of celebrants, recognition of civil partnerships from elsewhere, and family law matters.

At stage 2, 11 amendments were made to the bill. Most of them addressed minor technical matters, but some related to points that were raised in the stage 1 report. First, in the report, the committee expressed its support for the principle of giving married couples the ability to change their relationship to a civil partnership if they wish to do so. The Government lodged an amendment that will provide Scottish ministers with the power to make regulations on changing marriages to civil partnerships, which is consistent with the principles of equality and freedom of choice that underpin the bill.

Secondly, I was pleased to support amendments that were lodged by Alex Cole-Hamilton on the interim scheme of recognition of mixed-sex civil partnerships. The scheme will allow mixed-sex civil partnerships from elsewhere to be temporarily recognised as marriages in Scotland until mixed-sex civil partnerships are available here. Concerns were raised at stage 1, given that marriage is not the relationship that is chosen by couples who will be recognised under the interim scheme. The amendments that were lodged by Mr Cole-Hamilton strike the right balance between addressing the concerns and taking into account the conclusion in the stage 1 report on the bill that

“there is no immediate alternative to the current approach”.

The concerns expressed about the interim scheme of recognition were, in a sense, simply concerns about when mixed-sex civil partnerships will be available in Scotland. I assure the chamber that I am committed to implementing the bill as soon as possible so that no one will have to wait too long to enter into a mixed-sex civil partnership, should they wish to do so. It might even be that some couples in Scotland will emerge from lockdown with a deepened sense of commitment to each other and a wish to realise that commitment in the form of a mixed-sex civil partnership. If they do, I wish them the very best.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill be passed.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

We might be in the midst of a public health crisis, but it is good that we are still able to deal with other matters. To some, the bill might not, on the face of it, seem to be the most important matter in the world, but it will be very important indeed to those it potentially affects. I am therefore glad that we have found parliamentary time for it.

I record my thanks to the bill team and parliamentary staff who have worked on the bill, the committee clerks and committee members. They have produced a bill that can be commended to the chamber and which will make a real difference to people.

I do not think that the bill is contentious, but some issues had to be dealt with along the way. The bill, as we have heard, allows mixed-sex couples access to civil partnerships, ensuring compatibility with the European convention on human rights. The bill, which we support, brings Scots law into line with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The bill is about equality and fairness, which are principles that we should all subscribe to. It is also about choice—people having the ability to choose the status of a relationship that they are in and having the same choice as everyone else.

By way of background, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 allowed same-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. That was the first legal means for a same-sex couple to be recognised with similar legal rights to married different-sex couples. Ten years later, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 made it legal for same-sex couples to be married in Scotland and also allowed a same-sex couple in a civil partnership to convert their legal status to married. However, different-sex couples could not form a civil partnership.

Civil partnerships for different sex-couples have recently been introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That followed a ruling by the Supreme Court, already mentioned, that the situation was discriminatory and incompatible with the ECHR. That ruling did not apply to Scotland, but it was still entirely right that we addressed the matter here. The committee’s stage 1 report said:

“Scotland ... is the only country in the world where same sex couples can choose between marriage or civil partnership, while different sex couples only have the option of marriage.”

We supported the general principles of the bill unanimously at stage 1. The committee then addressed some issues that had been picked up at stage 2. There were important amendments, and I will touch on some of them. First, Alex Cole-Hamilton is to be thanked for addressing an issue that was raised at stage 1: namely, that for an interim period, mixed-sex civil partnerships registered outside Scotland would have been temporarily treated in Scots law as if they were marriages. That caused some concern and risked confusion for anyone in that position who moved to Scotland regarding what their status would be. Mr Cole-Hamilton introduced amendment 1, which allows couples who have registered civil partnerships outwith Scotland to present as being in a civil partnership during the interim period, when they will have the legal status of married before Scots law is altered. They will receive the same legal protections as married couples, while not having to identify as married.

That amendment and, consequentially, amendment 2 were supported unanimously. That would have made Martin Loat of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign a bit happier than he was at first. He said that he had a “huge problem in principle” that his own civil partnership would be treated as a marriage in the interim period and he urged the committee either to reconsider the provision involved or to have the bill enacted quickly so that the interim period was minimal or a non-existent theoretical issue.

Shirley-Anne Somerville introduced amendment 10, which allows marriages to be changed to civil partnerships and which was supported across all parties. Her amendment 11 extended recognition of marriages that have been converted to civil partnerships in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which was unanimously supported. She also introduced several minor technical amendments that were passed with cross-party support too. Amendments 4 to 6 extended provisions for civil partnerships to be maintained regardless of one member of the couple changing genders, as both same-sex and mixed-sex couples can now be in civil partnerships. Those amendments were supported by everyone.

One issue that was raised earlier and has not been tackled is worth mentioning again. The bill does not allow for adultery to be used as grounds for ending a civil partnership, unlike in marriage. The Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland suggested that that matter would be worthy of further consideration, but I saw no amendment on that—most probably because the committee felt, understandably, that it was a matter of divorce law.

The bill works, is fair and is about equality. Conservative members will support it at decision time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Pauline McNeill, who is speaking remotely, to open on behalf of Labour members.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am delighted to support the bill at stage 3.

Same-sex marriage became law in Scotland in 2014. That allowed same-sex couples to enter into either type of relationship, while heterosexual couples were able only to marry. At the time, it was a milestone in our equality law. Through having inclusive marriage laws, we exposed a gap in the law. We now have equality. Some people do not wish to marry, for symbolic, cultural or emotional reasons, and it is therefore important to allow the extension of civil partnership.

In 2018, the UK Supreme Court found that the law on civil partnerships infringed on human rights by not allowing those in mixed-sex relationships to enter into one. Alongside that, a head of steam was building in Scotland and the rest of the UK to demand that equality. Fundamentally, same-sex couples have a right to choose between civil partnership and marriage, and the same choice should be available to other couples.

It is important to increase people’s choice in how they live their lives in the structure that they choose. The bill aligns Scotland with the rest of the UK, as civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples have recently been introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I was impressed that, even at stage 2, the committee found good amendments that have strengthened the bill. Graham Simpson has welcomed amendments that were lodged by Alex Cole-Hamilton, which substantially strengthened the bill. Those allow for an interim period for mixed-sex civil partnerships that have been registered outwith Scotland to be temporarily treated in Scots law as if they were marriages. That is quite an important amendment. It will give couples legal protection before mixed-sex civil partnerships are commenced in Scotland. It also means that mixed-sex civil partners will be able to present themselves as civil partners and their relationship as a civil partnership.

I also welcome the Scottish Government amendment that allows marriages to be changed to civil partnerships—another vitally important way of strengthening the bill. The committee asked the Scottish Government to consider that, and I am pleased that the suggestion was taken on board. The Scottish Government amendments give ministers the power to make regulations, as we have heard, that will make it possible for married couples to change their marriage to a civil partnership, if they so wish.

The bill will mean that couples will have an alternative option to marriage in a legally recognised relationship that brings with it financial benefits. However, what is more than that—and not simply about financial benefits and security—many people simply feel strongly that marriage is not the right institution for them. I am pleased that, with the bill, we are ensuring that those people can be legally recognised as being in a relationship that has more or less the same benefits as marriage, and that may fit more with their personal beliefs and how they want to live their lives.

I am also pleased that, despite the national pandemic that has presided over our lives for the past three months, the Government will be able to allow wedding plans to go ahead in the foreseeable future.

Formalising partnerships can have many important benefits for people’s lives. It can promote stability for those who reject marriage and allow them to enter into something different. Honouring a commitment to another person is perhaps the main reason for a civil partnership, but it also gives important status in issues such as inheritance tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements. The change to the law also provides an option for people who previously thought that marriage might be a negative experience.

I commend the work of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee and the Government. I think that, finally, we have achieved equality in marriage law. On behalf of Scottish Labour, I am pleased to support the bill at stage 3.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

As this is likely to be my last speech before the recess, I want to record my appreciation of the Parliament’s officials, who have been working in difficult circumstances to enable members like me to contribute remotely. I will not be able to cast my vote when Parliament makes a decision on the bill, so I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak and to put my support for the bill on the record.

I suppose that, in a way, this speech has been a long time coming, for me. Way back when I joined the Scottish Green Party, one of the first policy motions that I brought to our party conference was on family law. That was at a time when the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community was just beginning to consider the possibility that we might get some form of family-law recognition.

In the first session after devolution, one of the first bits of equality legislation that was passed recognised same-sex relationships. That was in the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, but the possibility of some kind of legal recognition of family status was gradually coming forward.

The motion that I took to my party conference said that there should be cohabitation, civil partnership and marriage, and that all those legal forms of family relationship should be recognised on a non-discriminatory basis and open to same-sex and mixed-sex couples.

It is remarkable evidence of how far we have come that that is now such an uncontroversial position that it looks as though it is about to be adopted unanimously by the Scottish Parliament.

When I was first elected, we were very aware that the UK Parliament was about to begin debating civil partnership legislation for the UK, and that that was likely to be passed through a Sewel motion in the Scottish Parliament. It was an aspect of family law that was devolved, but many members of the Scottish Parliament, after their bruising encounters with the nasty, vicious and homophobic “Keep the clause” campaign in session 1, were unwilling to have that debate. Therefore, I lodged a proposal for a member’s bill on civil partnership, not because I expected that to become the legislative vehicle, but because I wanted to open up an opportunity for debate on and scrutiny of the issue in the Scottish Parliament.

That member’s bill proposal would have ensured that we were human-rights compliant from the word go. It was wrong to be able to criticise marriage for being discriminatory against same-sex couples and then to introduce a new mechanism—civil partnership—that was also discriminatory from the word go. We should not have made that mistake. However, we are where we are.

I really need to stress to members who might have forgotten it just how vociferous the reaction against my bill proposal was. The morning after I made the proposal, the front page of the

Daily Mail said, in big black letters, “Greens threat to the family”. The simple idea that every couple and every family should be able to decide for themselves on what basis in law they want to be recognised—without a hint of hierarchy, or of the sense that one mechanism is better or worse, or superior or inferior, and with discrimination being wrong regardless of whether they choose to cohabit, enter a civil partnership or marry—was such an extraordinary proposition to some people at the time that a friend of mine gave me a badge that I still wear. I am wearing it today. The camera is not close enough for you to see it, Presiding Officer, but it says, “Hated by the Daily Mail”. I still have that badge because I remember when the issues that we are about to pass with consensus today were such inflammatory and provocative positions that they elicited that hateful response.

I am very pleased that our politics and our political parties have moved on, so that we can now endorse equality together. I hope that the principle that was mentioned earlier—that the people who will be affected by the legislation are the ones about whom we should be thinking—will apply when we debate other equality issues, such as the status of trans people, who today suffer the kind of hateful hostility in the media and in politics that my community was suffering back in 2003, when I first debated civil partnership.

I support the bill.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

As Liberal Democrat equalities spokesperson and deputy convener of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, it gives me great pleasure to support the bill. I thank the clerks to the committee, the witnesses who gave evidence and the people who, through the virtual world in which we had to conduct them, made our stage 2 proceedings possible. As ever, I thank Tim Hopkins from the Equality Network, who guided me through the foothills of the bill, and without whose expertise I would have struggled. I am very grateful to him.

Marriage is not everybody’s cup of tea. For some, it represents religious or patriarchal baggage that many rail against. The legislation will correct an aberration in the legal landscape by which the law recognises a union. The bill will offer legal and financial protection for both parties in the event of a relationship ending, in the same way that it does in marriage and in same-sex civil partnership.

The changes that we made at stage 2 were important and have gone some way towards addressing the problems that were identified by witnesses at stage 1, and which have been mentioned in members’ remarks today. I am grateful to colleagues for their kind words on my efforts in that regard, and to the cabinet secretary for her co-operation on that score.

Section 3 of the bill provides that, for the interim period, people in mixed-sex civil partnerships that have been registered outside Scotland will temporarily be treated in Scots law as if they were married. That is to provide them with legal protections between commencement of section 3 and commencement of the rest of the bill. Once the whole bill has been commenced, those civil partnerships will be treated in law as civil partnerships and will continue to have those protections.

However, Martin Loat, of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, explained to us in compelling terms that that is problematic, because people in his situation have chosen to register a civil partnership instead of marrying. It is horrifying to them to be considered as married in any jurisdiction. He urged that the provision be reconsidered or, at least, that the interim period for which section 3 operates be kept to a minimum.

Because we want to provide such civil partnerships with legal protection as soon as possible, after lots of debate the committee recognised that there is no immediate alternative to section 3’s approach. However, at stage 2, through amendment 1, which was in my name, we amended the bill unanimously to make it clear that, although the legal protections of marriage are provided during the interim period, treating the civil partnership as though it were a marriage does not prevent the partners from

“presenting themselves as civil partners” and not being married. That is key. For example, if the partners were to complete an application form for insurance and were asked for their relationship status, as a result of amendment 1 they can legally answer “civil partnership”.

Irrespective of sex, gender, identity or sexual orientation, equality before the law is a vital baseline against which further progress towards all human equality and rights can be made. The Equality Network claims that, based on the experience of other countries, roughly one in 10 mixed-sex couples would prefer a civil partnership to a marriage, with demand coming from couples who would otherwise choose not to get married and would become unmarried cohabitants. That was a notable problem with the original drafting of the legislation; some mixed-sex couples who have married would, had it been available to them, have preferred a civil partnership. The same goes for couples who were married under a faith from which they have become estranged.

At stage 2, I was pleased to support the Government’s amendment 10, which changed the tenor of the bill such that same-sex couples, who had registered as civil partners before marriage was available to them, can change their civil partnership to a marriage, and vice versa. That is an important move for equality.

The bill reflects legitimate concerns and reasons why some people reject the institution of marriage. It offers all the legal protections to couples of all genders, all faiths and none. It irons out a kink in the fabric of our more equal society, and I am proud to have been part of its consideration.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Although my remarks are not made on behalf of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, I do not think that the committee’s members will mind my placing on the record our thanks to the citizens and organisations who contributed their experiences and evidence.

We are also very grateful to our clerks and the Parliament staff who have supported our scrutiny of this important legislation in these difficult times. We completed stage 2 proceedings remotely. Convening from home was a first for me, and has not been without its challenges. These are challenging times and now, more than ever, we must make every effort to promote equality and human rights. Our doing just that is at the heart of the bill.

Since the introduction of same-sex marriage, marriage and civil partnership have both been available to same-sex couples. However, mixed-sex couples have only the choice of marriage. When Parliament passes the bill this afternoon, Scotland will no longer be the only country in the world where that situation exists. That inequality will be eliminated.

The most powerful evidence that we heard in committee came from personal testimonies on how the bill, in providing more extensive rights and choices, would positively affect people’s lives. Extending civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples will mean that children have greater protections through legal recognition of their parent’s relationship.

Young LGBT people will no longer have to fear being outed as being lesbian, gay or bisexual if they reveal that they are in a civil partnership. Furthermore, transgender civil partners seeking a gender recognition certificate will no longer need to end their relationship.

I would like to remind members of some of the personal testimony that I shared at stage 1. One cohabiting woman wished that the bill had come sooner. She wrote to us:

“My partner died suddenly after 28 years together with two young children. Yet my children and I are not recognised as ‘family’ because we weren’t married. I have had to apply for widowed parent allowance … and two years down the line .... it’s still in the courts and I’m awaiting the next hearing.”

Another woman shared this:

“I’ve been with my partner for 9 years and neither of us have a desire to get married … However, I’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer and naturally I want my partner to be financially secure when I’m gone.”

The legislation will help to formalise that.

Mixed-sex civil partnerships are necessary to ensure that all couples have access to important legal rights that are currently available only through marriage. For many mixed-sex couples, the choice between marriage and cohabitation is not a real choice but a choice between acting against their deeply held convictions or accepting a lesser legal position.

The bill is about individuals and the choices that they must make. It provides real choices and will enable couples to have their relationship legally recognised in a way that is right for them, with the important legal rights and protections that flow from that.

As introduced, the bill would have created inequality of opportunity, so I am very grateful to the Scottish Government for lodging amendments at stage 2 to remedy that by allowing conversion of a marriage to a civil partnership.

The bill that we are debating today advances equality and upholds human rights. I will be very proud to vote for it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the closing speeches.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

As other members have said, the bill is an excellent piece of work and a positive piece of legislation. It allows different-sex couples an alternative option and, importantly, equality for those changing their gender. Overall, it makes the law a lot less complicated as well as making it equal.

When Patrick Harvie was speaking earlier, I recalled that he was the champion of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2004. He has played a significant role in persuading the Government to go down this road. It is a tragedy that it took us so long to give some—albeit limited—equality to same-sex relationships. I scrutinised the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2004 when the legislation went through Parliament and it was a significant milestone at that point.

At the time, we trawled through Scots law to equalise the law wherever we found that marriage was mentioned to ensure that civil partnerships had equal weight in the law. We have come much further than that today because now we truly have equality in our marriage laws. The law does not care whether people are a same-sex couple or a different-sex couple—all that the law is interested in is how the couple chooses to formalise that relationship. That is all that matters and all that really should matter. Everyone who wants the protection of family law should have it, regardless of the relationship that they have chosen.

I will keep my remarks short. There is nothing more to be said, other than that Scottish Labour is delighted to support the work of the Parliament and this excellent bill at stage 3.

Photo of Maurice Golden Maurice Golden Conservative

I thank the clerks, the convener and the members of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, as well as the cabinet secretary, for their approach in producing the bill. There has been a simple motivation behind the bill: fairness and ensuring that every couple has equal access to the same options for legal recognition.

The bill has widespread support. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has campaigned for it since 2011. The Equality Network supports the fact that the bill extends rights and choices. Engender believes that

“rolling back the rights of one group” is not the way to equalise treatment for all. The Young Women’s Alliance supports having options of recognition outside marriage. Stonewall Scotland was concerned that ending the registration of civil partnerships would undermine the relationships of same-sex couples while limiting rights for different-sex couples.

The cabinet secretary stated in her opening remarks that the bill is about equality and freedom of choice. I agree. We do not often have consensus in the Parliament—it is perhaps rare—but we enjoy consensus on this bill. That is perhaps because, as she outlined, love conquers all.

Graham Simpson said that the bill is about choice, which is something that we can all get behind. From the comfort of his sofa, Patrick Harvie spoke of his pride at the likelihood that the bill will pass. Ruth Maguire highlighted the personal testimonies and described the deeply concerning situations that couples faced as a result of the gap in the legal provision of partnerships that are open to couples in Scotland.

A key part of the bill was ensuring that the extension of civil partnerships to different-sex couples was on the same basis as the current same-sex provision. Pauline McNeill outlined why she welcomed that addition. That can be seen in the ability to convert partnerships to marriages and the ability to dissolve partnerships due to an irretrievable breakdown, just as same-sex couples are able to.

I welcome the fact that the bill recognises different-sex civil partnerships from outwith Scotland. Alex Cole-Hamilton’s amendment at stage 2 gave those partnerships legal rights akin to those for marriage until those partnerships become available in Scotland. That overcame the worrying predicament that is faced by many couples and made it clear that civil partnerships could, in essence, continue during the interim phase. Alex Cole-Hamilton called it “equality before the law”.

In the same vein of creating parity, the bill was amended at stage 2 to allow the conversion of marriages to civil partnerships. It is important to recognise and welcome the bill’s provisions that have strengthened civil partnerships for all couples, such as the prohibition of forced partnerships.

The bill has made progress, but it reinforces the need for wider and more informed debate on some of these issues. In particular, we must remember that the bill is correcting a mistake that the Parliament made in the original Civil Partnership Act 2004. That legislation, like this bill, was borne out of a desire for fairness, but it inadvertently created an unfair situation for different-sex couples who wished to enter into a civil partnership.

I hope that all members recognise not only the progress that has been made today, but that there is still work to do.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I thank members who have contributed to the debate. Again, I want to express how pleased I am that there has been cross-party consensus and agreement on the bill’s intention from its introduction to the final vote today. That consensus stands as clear evidence of the value that the chamber places on rights, fairness and equality in our country.

Many members, including Graham Simpson and Pauline McNeill, talked about changing marriages to civil partnerships. When discussing the bill, I have mentioned equality many times, but it is worth mentioning it again in that context. Equality is why the committee’s stage 1 report supported the principle of married couples being able to change to a civil partnership if they wish to do so, and it is why the Scottish Government was pleased to lodge amendments to follow up on the committee’s recommendations.

We have found that changes from same-sex civil partnerships to marriages have worked well, and there is no reason to think that changes from marriages to civil partnerships should be any different.

There was some discussion around the interim scheme of recognition, and I pay tribute to Alex Cole-Hamilton for his work on that at stage 2, which improved that section of the bill. In essence, that will give couples the freedom to use the language of the relationship they chose while the rights, benefits and responsibilities that flow from their relationship can be fully upheld in Scots law through temporary recognition as marriage.

Patrick Harvie pointed to a front page from the

Daily Mail that criticised his stance on equalities issues. I have a funny feeling that that has not been the only front page of the

Daily Mail that has criticised Patrick Harvie, and I am sure that it does not bother him one iota. He is right to say that equalities have moved on in many ways since that page was written, and I commend his work and continued efforts to ensure that that progress continues.

Ruth Maguire talked about the changes that will happen that will ensure that same-sex couples are not, in effect, outed by saying that they are in a civil partnership. That is a very important point, which was brought in during the bill’s development. She also brought the debate to the most important matter: the difference that the bill will make to couples in Scotland who wish to have their relationship recognised but do not feel that marriage is right for them. It is very important that we listen to the voices that this will make a difference to.

I want to provide some reassurance to the chamber about implementation of the bill, should it be passed. Although I am committed to implementing the bill as soon as possible, that must be tempered by the period that we are still in with Covid-19, and the fact that our focus rightly remains on our response to the pandemic.

There are a number of implementation tasks for the bill: an order at Westminster under section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998 and a package of secondary legislation to go through this Parliament. That might sound like a lot to couples who are keenly awaiting the introduction of mixed-sex civil partnerships in Scotland. However, I hope that they will be reassured to know that we have already taken steps to progress those tasks.

I pay tribute to the Scottish Government officials and Parliament staff who have ensured that, despite all the challenges that we have all faced under the pandemic, we have had the opportunity to debate, vote and—I hope—pass the bill. I also thank the members who have made this such a smooth process—if only all bills went through so smoothly.

I hope that we can all be proud that we are introducing legislation that will ensure equality to all in choosing the form of legal recognition that they would want for their relationship; maybe there will even be some civil partnership proposals tonight, following this debate. If there are, we can all jointly express our congratulations to any couples who have decided to progress their plans for marrying or entering a civil partnership. We wish them the happiest of lives together.

I thank members across the chamber for their contributions to the debate, and I commend the bill and the motion to Parliament.