By Bob Duncan
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the most senior member of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, has refused to take any further part in direct discussions with the Scottish Government on the subject of same-sex marriage.
The move is in protest at the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a bill legalising same-sex marriages, which the Catholic Church has described as a “dangerous social experiment on a massive scale”.
The Cardinal, who is also leader of the Catholic Church in the UK, has previously described same-sex marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and claimed the measure would lead to three-way marriages and is akin to legalising slavery.
However, Cardinal O’Brien’s spokesman, Peter Kearney, speaking to BBC Scotland insisted the Cardinal remained keen to maintain a dialogue with the government.
“Cardinal O’Brien is really keen that the perspective and the position of the Catholic church is conveyed to the Scottish Government, but he isn’t convinced that he necessarily has to do that in person,” he said.
“Also the situation we find ourselves in is one where we want to maintain a dialogue, and the cardinal wants to maintain a dialogue with the government, but that can be difficult when you feel all the things you have to say, to date at least, have been completely ignored.”
The leaders of all five parties in the Scottish Parliament are in agreement over the policy, which was promoted by gay rights campaigners and some faith groups, but vigorously opposed by the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic church.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the government will bring forward a Bill which could see the first same-sex marriages take place as early as 2015.
But Holyrood insists that protections will be included in the bill to ensure that churches, and individuals celebrants, cannot be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages against their wishes.
In an effort to heal the rift between church and state on this matter, the First Minister and the Cardinal held a telephone conversation on Saturday in which they discussed a number of subjects including same-sex marriage.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The First Minister spoke at some length with the Cardinal yesterday morning, and had an entirely amicable conversation on first-name terms.
“It is also the right and proper way forward that officials from the Church and government are going to meet in order to discuss the very important matters of protecting religious freedom and freedom of expression, which we are absolutely committed to doing.
“It is inevitable that government ministers will not always agree with church leaders — this is an honest disagreement about an important policy issue, and we have the utmost respect for the different views expressed in the debate.”
The controversial decision by the Scottish government has led to claims it might harm the Yes campaign in the 2014 independence referendum. BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan recently described the decision as “risky” for the SNP and said the issue could lead to Scots voting No in the independence referendum.
However, the anti-independence camp itself is unlikely to benefit from any backlash given that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservative leaders all support the Scottish government’s stance. In February this year, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont joined her Conservative counterpart Ruth Davidson and Lib Dem front man Willie Rennie to sign the Equality Network document in support of same sex marriage.
Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to introduce a bill covering England and Wales before the next general election. The UK Government has also carried out a consultation on same-sex marriage, but has yet to publish the result.