A motion tabled in the Holyrood Parliament by SNP MSP John Mason has been attacked as “homophobic”. Mr Mason’s motion reads: “While some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them … No person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages.”
Mr Mason’s motion was backed by a number of his party colleagues, including Dunfermline MSP Bill Walker. Speaking to the Courier newspaper, Mr Walker said: “I supported this motion because it seemed to make some kind of sense. For me the word marriage literally means a relationship entered into between a man and a woman.”
Mr Mason lodged the motion in advance of the Scottish Government’s promised consultation on the issue of gay marriage. Many within the gay and lesbian community feel that current legislation, granting civil-partnerships, is an insulting ‘halfway house’ and that full equality demands that civil marriages are available to everyone, gay or straight. There were 465 civil partnerships in Scotland last year.
Critics of Mr Mason’s motion claim it is not entirely clear what his motion hopes to achieve and argue it is difficult to understand how anyone could be “forced to approve” of gay marriages or to participate in them. The only people who could potentially be “forced to participate” in gay weddings are public registrars who officiate at civil marriage ceremonies.
Current legislation means that such officials are not permitted to allow their personal religious beliefs to dictate whether or not they will officiate at a legal civil marriage, there is no reason gay marriage need be any different. The proposals for gay and lesbian marriages relate only to civil marriage, not religious services, which will continue to be held according to the dictates of the religion concerned.
It is understood that few in the gay community are interested in receiving the ‘approval’ of organisations and institutions which they perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be homophobic. There is also anger within the community at the way politicians continue to insist that the issue is a “matter of conscience” or a question of personal morality.
According to one Scottish gay activist: “Our civil liberties are not a matter for the conscience of others. People are either equal or they’re not. This is a civil rights issue, pure and simple. The only moral issue here is – do you think it’s acceptable to discriminate against people or don’t you. Mr Mason wants to discriminate against other people yet portray himself as the victim.”
Opposition politicians were quick to condemn the motion. Deputy Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont MSP said that Mr Mason’s views were “bizarre”. Patrick Harvie leader of the Greens, who is himself gay, accused Mr Mason of “being stuck in the Dark Ages”.
In response to the motion, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie submitted an amendment calling for marriage equality and praised the new SNP government for announcing a consultation on the issue.
Other SNP politicians have attacked Mr Mason’s motion. Pete Wishart, the MSP for Perth and North Perthshire, wrote on Twitter: “John Mason’s nasty little anti-gay marriage motion is just wrong, and really disappointed that other colleagues have signed it.”
Speaking to the Scotsman, Mr Wishart added: “I believe John’s got it totally wrong on this one. My views on this have been pretty straight forward over the years. One of the things I feel very passionate on is equality issues. I do respect that when it comes to conscience issues people have their own minds to make up, but to put a parliamentary motion was a bit disappointing.”
A spokesperson for the SNP said: “People have different views on this but we have a commitment to carry out a consultation on this, which the government will be launching to fulfil a manifesto commitment.”