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Scotland unveils draft gay marriage bill

Scotland makes history by becoming the first part of the United Kingdom to publish legislation to allow same-sex marriage
Scotland unveils a historic draft gay marriage bill
Dan Littauer

The Scottish government launched the ‘Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill’, which will introduce marriage equality, yesterday (12 December) alongside a 14-week consultation on its implementation.

The draft legislation will allow same-sex marriage in Scotland and give all religious and belief bodies (for example Humanist) the right to conduct same-sex marriages, if they wish to do so.

The bill will also remove the requirement on a married or civil partnered transgender person to divorce before obtaining full Gender Recognition.

In addition the bill will introduce religious and belief ceremonies for civil partnerships.

Finally, the bill will allow civil marriages to take place anywhere a couple and their registrar choose.

The Scottish government will now be consulting on the implementation of the draft bill, including the details of the legislation and proposals relating to religious bodies and celebrants, freedom of speech, education and employment.

Following the close of the public consultation on 20 March, the Scottish government will make any changes to the bill that are considered necessary, then introduce the bill for a vote into the Scottish parliament.

It generally takes at least 6 months for a bill to go through parliament, so if the bill is introduced by May or June, it might be passed by around the end of 2013.

Depending on unforeseen changes to the timetable the first same-sex marriages in Scotland should take place in 2014.

Tom French, policy coordinator for the Equality Network charity, welcomed the bill and said: ‘Today Scotland has taken a huge step forward towards full equality for LGBT people.

‘Equally religious bodies should have the freedom to choose for themselves whether to conduct same-sex marriages, currently all religious bodies are wrongly banned from doing so regardless of their beliefs.

‘These proposals are fair and progressive, and as a result we expect the final legislation to get the backing of a clear majority in parliament'.

All the major Scottish political parties welcomed the bill.

Alex Neil Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), and Scottish Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, said; ‘We are introducing same sex marriage in Scotland because it is the right thing to do.

‘We are striving to create a Scotland that is free, tolerant and fair and I am pleased to say there is support across the chamber for this significant step.

‘I am absolutely clear that this should not impact on religious freedom and no religious body will be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages.’

Johann Lamont MSP, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said: ‘Equality for LGBT people in the UK has always been advanced by the Labour Party, from equalising the age of consent, introducing anti-discriminatory policies, introducing civil partnerships and promoting equality across Europe and beyond. We look forward to scrutinising the bill’.

Ruth Davidson MSP, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, said; ‘I support the principal of equal marriage’, adding she will work to ensure that religious protections are in place’.

Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: ‘This bill represents a proud step forwards for equality in Scotland.

‘Equal marriage is the right and natural step towards the modern, tolerant and progressive Scotland we all want to see’.

Patrick Harvie MSP, out bisexual leader of the Scottish Green Party, said: ‘I’m delighted that Scotland will be pressing ahead with legislation which recognises the equal status of mixed-sex and same-sex relationships, and gives them all the same right to marriage.

‘I believe they should all have the same right to civil partnership too, and I’ll look forward to debating that in parliament.

‘Equality should mean equality for everyone, on their own terms.’

Over 14 Scottish religious leaders, from the Quakers, Episcopal, Unitarian, ministers of the Church of Scotland and Liberal Jeduasim have welcomed the bill and said they look forward to solemnise same-sex marriage.

Despite the bill ensuring opt out for religious bodies who do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages and guaranteeing religious freedom, some Scottish religious leaders said religious bodies are not ‘protected’ enough against the bill and called for ‘more safeguards’.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said that ‘leading legal opinion’ has warned that the government’s proposals will have an ‘adverse’ impact on ‘religious freedom and a wide range of civil liberties.’ and may ‘discriminate unjustly’ against religious bodies.

Rev Alan Hamilton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s legal questions committee, said: ‘We have also expressed concerns about the speed with which the government is proceeding with this and what we fear will be inadequate safeguards for religious bodies and ministers and people of faith who view this as being contrary to their beliefs’.

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