Yesterday evening I voted with a majority of MSPs to pass legislation to introduce same-sex marriage.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act will allow couples of the same sex to legally marry and will allow for the religious and belief registration of civil partnerships among other reforms.
I am pleased that the bill has passed its final Parliamentary hurdle and believe that this is a big step forward, delivering greater equality for LGBT people who wish to have their relationship recognised through marriage.
The passing of the bill builds on the progress we made when we introduced civil partnerships in 2004 and paves the way for the first same-sex marriages to take place later this year.
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 was conscious of the concerns raised with me by constituents and other MSPs. However, I believe that the bill provides proper protections for religious and belief celebrants who do not wish to solemnise same-sex marriage and back the commitment which allows those who do to opt in.
In addition to these protections the UK Government has further amended the 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 measures give appropriate protection to the religious and moral freedoms of individuals and organisations.
Last night was that rare occasion when MSPs were not whipped on every amendment as it was a free vote. So the individual representations and the wider debates that we’d had over the last three years were particularly important to me in deciding how I voted line by line through the bill.
I am grateful to those constituents who have taken the time to write to me to raise their support and concerns on this issue and am proud that the Parliament has taken this positive step for greater equality.