Britain’s most senior Catholic demanded a referendum on same-sex marriage in a last-minute intervention on the eve of a final decision by the Scottish government.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s intercession comes ahead of the Scottish National Party (SNP) cabinet meeting tomorrow (17 July) to decide whether to introduce a same-sex marriage bill to the Scottish Parliament.
‘The Scottish government's consultation on redefining marriage had three times more respondents than the consultation on the constitution, demonstrating clearly that far more people are concerned about fundamental matters of morality at the present time.
‘Clearly, if it is sensible to hold a referendum on independence, it is crucial we have one on marriage. It is the only way the country can move forward on this issue. Let all those who have a view on this subject place their trust in the Scottish people and let Scotland decide.’
Cardinal O'Brien has declared war on the proposed marriage equality bill which he described as ‘madness’. Previously he has likened the proposal to 'slavery'.
The Catholic Church says it will spend an additional £100,000 ($155,000 €127,000) on an advertising campaign against the plans, on top of the £50,000 ($78,000 €64,000) it has already spent against marriage equality in Scotland.
Speaking with Gay Star News, Colin Macfarlane, director of gay campaign group Stonewall Scotland, said: 'The Cardinal's last-ditch call for a referendum is desperate and totally out of step with public opinion.
‘Stonewall Scotland's latest poll, carried out by YouGov, found that two thirds of Scots supported same-sex marriage.
‘Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) were elected at the last Scottish election on clear manifesto commitments to consult on equal marriage and decide on the evidence and that is what they should do. A referendum would therefore be totally undemocratic and a huge waste of taxpayers money.'
Tim Hopkins, chairperson of Scotland’s Equality Network stated to GSN: ‘The Cardinal obviously realises he has lost the rational argument on equal marriage.
‘The majority of Scots support same-sex marriage, but we don’t use referendums to decide on the rights of specific groups in Scotland.
‘Any referendum would be undemocratic and unbalanced given the huge amount of money the Catholic Church has promised to spend on advertising, and would be hugely divisive.
‘We elect our parliament to consider the evidence and decide policies, and we’re confident they will decide in favour of equal marriage.’
Speaking on BBC radio Scotland this morning John Deighan, parliamentary officer for the Catholic Church in Scotland, warned that that ‘gay marriage would be imposed undemocratically’ and alleging that churches, priests and educational institutions could face court action if the bill is passed.
Previously the Scottish government said it ‘tends towards the view’ that same-sex marriage should be introduced, although faith groups will not be obliged to solemnise the ceremonies.
Many religious leaders also disagree with the Cardinal. Speaking with GSN, Kelvin Holdsworth, Episcopal Provost of St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow said that ‘many view equal marriage as a human rights issue rather than something that one church should be able to rule out simply because of its own moral code.
‘If religious people do not want to conduct such marriages then that should be up to them – after all, no religious celebrant is ever forced to conduct any marriage currently and no religious celebrant will be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage if the law changes.
‘The Roman Catholic Cardinal is not the moral arbiter of Scottish society. The decision about equal marriage should properly be taken by those elected to take it.
‘The sooner that the Scottish parliament gets a chance to vote for equal marriage the better.’
Many within SNP urged pressing ahead with the bill. Speaking with GSN out gay SNP MSP Marco Biagi said: 'Governments are elected to take decisions about the laws of the land. In my opinion referendums are only needed to change the terms of how those elections take place or the decisions governments are allowed to take.
'The equal marriage proposal is simply a change to the laws surrounding marriage. It should be decided in the normal way - just like the many previous changes that have taken place - who can perform marriage ceremonies, women’s rights in wedlock, divorce grounds, and the minimum age of participation to list but a few.'
On Saturday Jim Eadie, the SNP MSP said: ‘The message to the Scottish government should be: “Stand firm, hold your nerve”.'
Other MSPs who attended Pride Glasgow on Saturday called upon the Scottish government to legislated for equality, including SNP MSP James Doran and Labour MSP Drew Smith.