Same-sex marriage bill to be presented to Holyrood within the month

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The Scottish Government has announced that it will introduce a bill in Holyrood before the end of June to legalise same-sex marriage in Scotland.

The bill will also legalise civil ceremonies at locations other than a registry office, and will contain provisions so that no church, synagogue, mosque or religious celebrant will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages.

The bill, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, was welcomed by same-sex marriage campaigners and all the major parties.

Once the bill has been formally presented to Parliament it will be scrutinised by committee members and debated in the chamber.  It is expected that the legislation will pass, as it has the support of a clear majority of MSPs and all major political parties.  It is likely that the measure will come into effect sometime next year.

Despite vocal opposition, largely from certain religious groups, opinion polls show that a majority of Scots support same-sex marriage. 

According to the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 61% of Scotland’s population supports same-sex marriage. Just 19% said they disagreed, while the remainder had no opinion.  A more recent survey of UK public opinion, carried out by YouGov in June 2012, found that 71% of people believe same-sex marriage should be legal.

In order to protect the interests of religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage, the Scottish Government has been conducting talks with the UK Government as Holyrood ministers believe UK equalities legislation needs to be amended to ensure that those who refuse to conduct same-sex marriages are protected against legal action.

Health secretary Alex Neil said “substantial progress” had been made in discussions on the issue with Maria Millar MP, the UK Culture Secretary. 

Although civil partnerships have been legal for several years, and grant couples the same legal rights as marriage, legislation is necessary to ensure that same-sex couples who formalise their relationships enjoy legal recognition in other jurisdictions.  Civil partnerships are not recognised as the equivalent of marriage in many countries, including several of those where same-sex marriage is legal.

Organisations campaigning for LGBT equality argue that same-sex couples deserve the same legal status as heterosexual couples, and that civil partnerships are a halfway measure.

However campaigners opposed to same-sex marriage have vowed that the fight is not over.  Scotland For Marriage, which has the backing of the Catholic Church and a number of Evangelical Christian organisations, said that it was “cranking up” its activity, and insisted that “the politicians of Holyrood are a million miles away from public opinion on this issue.”

Legislation to introduce same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by the House of Commons last week.  The bill has now passed to the House of Lords for further consideration.

A growing number of countries around the world recognise same-sex marriage.  This week France became the latest country to legalise same-sex marriage, with the first ceremony taking place in Montpellier on Wednesday. 

Same-sex marriage is also legal in Spain, Portugal, Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and some states in the USA and Mexico.  In April New Zealand passed legislation to recognise same-sex marriage, the law comes into effect in August.  Legislation is pending in a number of other countries.