Faith in equality of gay marriage


by Alyn Smith MEP

I’ve long said that for politicians ‘recess’ should not be confused with ‘holiday’ and a few of my MSP colleagues have certainly been busy this week.

Apparently the talk of the steamie at Shettleston Cross is not the economy, or budget cuts, our low growth, shameful ill health or even more shaming life expectancy – my SNP colleague John Mason has brought forward a motion expressing unease at the debate on equal marriage, seeking support for the idea that “no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages”.

This saddens me, and while John, or anyone else, does indeed have a right to his views, and we are on most other things on the same side, with that right comes the responsibility to justify them if his views limit the freedom or dignity of others. John does not speak for the SNP any more than I do, but I know I’m with the majority. But first, forgive me a two-paragraph history lesson for those who have been getting on with their lives instead of obsessing about the domestic arrangements of other people.

Marriage is a legal and binding contract, recognised by the state as A Good Thing, and evidenced when the happy couple sign the official register. Note, and it is important, not when the religious official does whatever he or she does. That is when God recognises it, not the state. The state very wisely leaves God to his or her own practice and belief: a marriage does not take legal effect until signed and registered, in the same way, on the same form for everyone.

Well, actually, not everyone. Until recently, gay couples were excluded.

Our state took the view that a stable loving relationship between two men, or two women, was neither possible nor desirable. A pretty hurtful state of affairs, as well as at variance with reality. Civil Partnerships were made law in 2004, offering the same status, rights and obligations, if not the same name, to gay relationships. One hundred per cent of SNP MPs voted in favour.

So presently a straight couple can get married, but not civil partnered, and a gay couple can get civil partnered but not married. Curiously, we managed to replace discrimination against two groups in our community with discrimination against everybody. I suppose that is progress, after a fashion, but it remains odd if you think about it. However, the rights are the same and the process is the same. The SNP government is committed to a consultation on the pros and cons of equalising these rights. A consultation will be brought forward, and in due course legislation to implement the consultation findings.

Without prejudging the consultation, it would seem pretty clear that in our democracy a significant majority is in favour of tidying things up.

A poll in 2010 showed 58 per cent support with only 19 per cent against, and more recently the Scottish Youth Parliament has, with some panache, led the debate with the launch of their Love Equally campaign, an issue it selected after consulting with  more than 42,000 young people across Scotland. Ten other countries have legislated for equality, with dozens more, like us, examining the issue with a view to reform.

And that is where we are. The argument has been won. The rights are already equal but not the titles. God’s thoughts on the relationship are not a matter for the state. Some people involve religious ceremony in their happy day, some choose not to. It saddens me that some members of our faith communities sustain an irrational belief that equality infringes their freedom of conscience, because it simply does not.

Nobody has suggested that if equal marriage is brought forward then organisations will be forced to perform them. Come on, seriously, why on earth would anyone seek the blessing (literally) of an organisation that disapproves of them? Equally, if a religious organisation freely decides it does want to embrace the diversity of its congregation, why not? With a bit of mutual respect there is room for everyone.

Sadly, the motion before our nation’s Parliament lacks any idea of respect at all. The plea that nobody should be forced to even approve of same sex relationships, never mind marriage, is just plain odd. That argument has already been lost, and a long time ago. Those who disapprove have, and will continue to have, a right to disapprove, if they are so minded. I’ve some pretty disapproving thoughts on such an attitude myself, but so what, trading hurt will get us nowhere. I respect faith and I respect free speech. But I don’t respect, and I won’t tolerate, discrimination and neither does our society. Our society has collectively decided that we are an egalitarian and respectful bunch, that everyone is equal before our democratically agreed law and that everyone will respect the legal rights of others.

What is in the small, mean, angry heads of bigots is a matter for them. I never asked for their approval, but I demand equality. And as a proud nationalist I have my own faith. I have faith in the good sense of the people of our big-hearted Scotland to calmly and rationally reject irrational paranoia and come to a just conclusion.

Alyn Smith has been an SNP member of the European Parliament since 2004.


Published by kind permission of the author.{jcomments off}