Yesterday evening I voted with a majority of MSPs to progress legislation that would introduce same-sex marriage.
If enacted, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill would allow couples of the same-sex to legally marry and would allow for the religious and belief registration of civil partnerships among other reforms.
I am pleased that the bill has passed its first hurdle and support the agenda to deliver greater equality for LGBT people who wish to have their relationship recognised through marriage.
Yesterday, Parliament passed the Bill at Stage 1 with the debate focusing on the general principles underpinning the proposals. The debate was based on a detailed report from the Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee which, in recent months, has spent considerable time gathering evidence from stakeholders on both sides of the debate.
In the subsequent two stages, the specific proposals will be closely scrutinised with amendments proposed to address any concerns.
Now that the Parliament has supported the basic principles of the Bill, these subsequent stages are important to ensure that the Parliament gets the detail right. This issue has polarised opinion and, since the first consultation in 2011, hundreds of constituents have written to me to express their views.
While I am strongly in favour of equal marriage, I am conscious of the legitimate concerns raised with me by constituents. One of the key issues is the inclusion of robust protections for faith groups. I support the range of protections in the bill for religious and belief celebrants who do not wish to solemnise same-sex marriage and the commitment which allows those who do to opt in.
I understand that discussions are under way with the UK Government to further amend the UK Equality Act to make absolutely sure that, where a body does decide to carry out such ceremonies, individual celebrants are not forced to do so if they deem such ceremonies to be against their faith. I believe these steps afford appropriate protection to the religious and moral freedoms of individuals and organisations.
Scrutiny of the first draft of the bill has highlighted other important issues raised by opponents such as concerns over the potential impact of this legislation on teachers and employees in the public sector and its potential repercussions upon certain individuals and charities. From discussions with colleagues I am aware that potential amendments are being considered to clarify these issues.
I will be continuing to follow the progress of this bill closely and am grateful to those constituents who have taken the time to write to me to raise their support and concerns.