Scotland has confirmed it will legalize gay marriage, becoming the first part of the UK to do so.
A bill on the issue will be brought forward in the country's parliament this September.
Today’s decision (25 July) comes after cabinet members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) government met earlier this month to discuss the measures.
Despite widespread support for a change in the law, there has been fierce opposition from some religious leaders and clerics.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain’s most senior Catholic demanded a referendum on same-sex marriage in a last-ditch effort to delay the decision. But the government rejected that idea.
O'Brien declared war on the proposed marriage equality bill which he described as ‘madness’ and likened to 'slavery'.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights campaigners, couples, faith leaders and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) have called the announcement ‘a proud day for Scotland’.
Separate legislation has been promised in England and Wales. There the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to introduce gay marriage by 2015, a promise renewed at a reception yesterday evening.
Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, told Gay Star News: ‘Thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Scots and their families will be delighted with today’s announcement.
‘So will the majority of Scots who want our nation to be a beacon of respect and fairness.
‘In recent months Scotland has been subject to a vitriolic campaign by some people who want to impose their 19th century values on a 21st century nation. These proposals will send a clear signal that there’s no place for such bigotry in modern Scotland.
‘We now urge the Scottish and UK governments to work together to ensure that any amendment to the Equality Act is dealt with quickly and won’t delay the introduction of the bill to the Scottish Parliament.
‘At Stonewall Scotland we’ve never sought so-called “gay rights”. All we’ve ever sought are exactly the same rights and entitlements that everyone else takes for granted.
‘We know that the thousands of individual supporters who make Stonewall Scotland’s campaigning possible will now be looking to their MSPs to show their commitment to equality and vote to say I do to equal marriage.’
Commenting on the news, Tom French, policy coordinator for the Equality Network, said: ‘Today is a proud day for Scotland. The Scottish government have shown their determination to make Scotland a more progressive country.
‘With cross-party support for equality in the Scottish Parliament we would expect that this change can be passed next year.
‘Same-sex marriage is about equality and freedom. The freedom for couples, and religious and humanist groups that want to, to celebrate same-sex marriages. But equally, upholding the freedom of other religious groups to say no to same-sex marriages. That’s the right way for Scotland to deal with the different opinions on this.
‘We welcome that religious and humanist groups that want to conduct same-sex marriages will be able to do so. We have no problem with a small amendment to the Equality Act to ensure that religious celebrants who disagree don’t have to conduct same-sex marriages. We fully expect the UK government to cooperate to ensure that. We have always said that religious bodies and celebrants who do not want to conduct same-sex marriage should be free to opt out.
‘In the Scottish government’s consultation, two thirds of the proper consultation responses from Scotland were in favour of same-sex marriage. Consultation is not a numbers game though, and it’s not about petitions and postcards. The Scottish government were right to take the time to carefully consider the all the points raised by consultation responses.’
James Morton, coordinator of Scottish Transgender Alliance, said: ‘Opening up marriage to all, regardless of gender, is a sign that all families in Scotland are equally valued.’
Same-sex couples living in Scotland have also praised the move.
Jaye and Ruth Richards-Hill, a lesbian Christian couple from Glasgow, said: ‘We are no longer treated like second-class citizens by our government. We are thrilled that we can now get the religious wedding that we deserve. ‘
Nathan and Robert Gale, a gay couple from Edinburgh, said: ‘This is an extremely exciting day for us and for everyone in Scotland who supports equality. The love that we have for each other is the same as that between heterosexual couples and now our marriage will be as well.’
And faith leaders from across Scotland welcomed the announcement.
Rabbi Mark Solomon of the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community, stated: ‘This is a day of pride and joy for Scotland and all her LGBT citizens. It is a major step towards a fully equal and just society where the commitment of all loving couples is honoured. At a Jewish wedding we shout Mazal-tov [congratulations and good luck] when the bridegroom breaks the glass to end the ceremony. A huge Mazal-tov to the Scottish government and us all!’
Meanwhile Reverend Jane Clarke, of the Metropolitan Community Church said: ‘I am delighted by this decision. At last I will be not be forced by the law to discriminate against the same-sex couples within my congregation.’
Reverend Lindsay Louise Biddle, chaplain of Affirmation Scotland and a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister serving in the Church of Scotland, said: ‘As a Christian minister ready and able to conduct weddings for two women or two men, I am proud to serve as a minister of religion in Scotland where the rights of all people are protected and the freedom of individual conscience is affirmed.’
Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of Glasgow’s St Mary’s Cathedral, Scottish Episcopal Church, said: ‘Churches and other faith groups will now have the opportunity, previously denied them, to decide for themselves whether or not to affirm the relationships of same-sex couples in their midst.
‘People of faith and people of goodwill are at work to ensure that gay couples can walk down the street hand in hand in safety. Now we can look forward to those same couples walking down the aisle together, fully able to celebrate their relationships within their faith communities.’
Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) from across the political parties have welcomed the announcement.
Out gay Scottish National Party MSP Marco Biagi said: ‘I’m looking forward to voting for Scotland to join our near neighbours like Denmark, Norway and Sweden as a progressive beacon for inclusion, equality and acceptance. It can’t come soon enough.’
And Scottish Green party co-convener Patrick Harvie tweeted: ‘Finally, the Scottish government announces that it will legalise same-sex marriage. But they still say UK Equality Act must change. Not so!
‘So, it looks like all I need to do now is find myself a husband...’
Finally, the next generation of LGBT politicians in Scotland have also welcomed the move.
Scott, LGBT National Youth Council representative for Glasgow, said: ‘I want to have the same rights as my parents did when they got married (as a mixed sex couple) with my own same-sex partner and I want to be just as happy as they were in marriage.’
And Daniel, LGBT National Youth Council representative for Edinburgh, pointed out the advantages of a gender neutral marriage law for transgender people.
He said: ‘As it currently stands, I wouldn't be able to marry any partner as I would have to divorce them to have my legal gender changed. It essentially excludes transgender people from marriage and civil partnerships. Legalising same-sex marriage will mean I won’t have to go through the financially, emotionally exhausting process of separating from the one I love just to be recognised as my legal gender and remarry again.’