The Scottish Government has today announced its intention to proceed with its plans to redefine marriage and allow homosexual couples to have a religious marriage service, despite having received a huge volume of consultation results against this proposal.
The Government consultation closed in December 2011 after receiving the highest number of responses in its history with 77,508 submissions. 67% of respondents (64% of Scottish respondents) disagreed that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry with only 32% (36% of Scottish respondents) responding in favour. Scotland for Marriage, an alliance of groups including CARE opposed to the plans, has worked tirelessly to express the concerns of many that the civil liberties of individuals within religious institutions would be infringed by such legislation.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Deputy First Minister, has admitted the scale of the challenge that lies before the Scottish Government to make the legal changes necessary to protect individuals who are opposed to same-sex marriage from being compelled to conduct same-sex ceremonies, as they have publicly committed to do. To make this commitment defensible the Scottish Government has had to concede that they will require the Equality Act 2010 to be amended by the Westminster Government before they can implement same-sex marriage legislation.
The Deputy First Minister explained: ‘Our view is that to give certainty on protection for individual celebrants taking a different view from a religious body that does agree to conduct same sex marriages, an amendment will be required to the UK Equality Act.’
The Scottish Parliament will vote on the draft Bill once it is introduced, but if passed it will not be implemented until the amendments to the Equality Act are made in Westminster. This will mean that MSPs will be expected to vote on same-sex marriage without knowledge of how the civil liberties of religious celebrants will be protected.
A spokesman for Scotland for Marriage responded to the news: ‘We are deeply unhappy at the decision by the Scottish Government to proceed with its plans to redefine marriage. They have ignored their own public consultation, and announced that they will proceed with legislation even though – by their own admission – the civil liberty concerns still hang in the balance.’
‘Holyrood has repeatedly promised that churches won’t be forced to perform gay weddings, but…rulings from the European Court under human rights law, could leave that promise in tatters.’
Legal opinion sought by Scotland for Marriage has stated that the implications of such a change to marriage law include:
It was announced this morning that a consultation on a draft Bill will be launched later this year and that the Government will undertake further discussions with key stakeholders on the issue of the freedom of religion and of speech, including the impact on teachers and parents.
The UK Government also plans to redefine marriage. Their consultation on the proposals closed in June this year and the results will be analysed before a formal response is issued. Last night the Prime Minister repeated his commitment to redefine marriage by 2015.
Scotland for Marriage is now calling for a referendum to give the Scottish people a second chance to be heard in order to protect hundreds of years of matrimonial law from unravelling taking with it the rights and liberties of Christians.