The Scottish government has revealed that it will announce its decision on same-sex marriage on 10 July.
A discussion will take place at the cabinet meeting that day and a decision will be taken on whether or not the Scottish National Party (SNP) administration will propose a change in the law to give same-sex couples equal marriage rights.
The public consultation on same-sex marriage closed in December with over 50,000 responses, making it by far the biggest consultation in the history of the Scottish Parliament. The results were originally due to be published in March, but are now expected to be published alongside the announcement in July.
Equality campaigners and Members of the Scottish Parlaiment (MSPs) have expressed disappointment that a decision on equal marriage has been delayed for the second time this year, and have urged ‘no more delays’, calling on the Scottish Government to bring forward legislation soon.
Tom French, policy coordinator for the Equality Network, said: ‘Supporters of equality will be disappointed that a decision on equal marriage has been delayed again. There is clear support for equal marriage across the country and in the Scottish Parliament, so we are now calling on the Scottish government to stick by their principles, and bring forward legislation.’
Scottish politicians also urged the government not to delay the matter any longer.
Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats stated: “After delaying the decision in March and the First Minister assuring me it would be made in June, perhaps it is third time’s a charm with the Scottish government on equal marriage. The majority of MSPs support it, the majority of the Scottish public support it, it is time that the Scottish government began legislating for equal marriage without further delay.’
Patrick Harvie MSP, Leader of the Scottish Green Party declared: ‘Time after time, public support for equal marriage has been shown to be strong in Scotland. Those who want the law to keep treating same-sex couples as second class citizens are in the wrong, and in the minority. It’s time now to press ahead with this overdue change in the law.’
While Mary Fee, a Scottish Labour MSP, said: ‘I am disappointed that the Scottish government has delayed the announcement on equal marriage despite promising a statement before the end of the parliamentary term.’
Speaking for the Scottish government, Marco Biagi an out gay SNP MSP, said: ‘After months of public debate it is now clear that equal marriage has the support of a majority of the public. The hotly anticipated bill on equal marriage is worthy of speedy introduction and will undoubtedly now receive widespread backing from both public and Parliament.’
Sources close to the SNP believe that Nicola Sturgeon MSP, the minister responsible for the proposals, will be championing a change in the law to bring about full marriage equality for same-sex couples, including allowing both civil and religious marriage.
However, the Sunday Times reported in May that some ministers were privately briefing against legislation, quoting one source as saying ‘the ministers who have doubts about same-sex marriage are just being pragmatic, it does not make sense for the SNP to have this fight.’
Earlier this month the Equality Network announced that a majority of MSPs had signed its Equal Marriage Pledge, committing themselves to voting in favour of same-sex marriage. 74 MSPs have now said they will vote in favour, whilst just nine remain opposed.
Opinion polls have shown consistent public support for same-sex marriage. An Ipsos MORI poll conducted in June for the Equality Network showed record support with 64% of Scots in favour of a change in the law, and just 26% opposed. Separate polls conducted over the past two years by Populus, YouGov, Angus Reid, and the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey have all shown similar results.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have claimed that a majority of responses are against a change in the law, but the Equality Network have warned against ‘prejudging’ the consultation or treating it as ‘a numbers game’, arguing ‘this is a consultation not a referendum or an opinion poll, what matters most is the quality of the arguments and the strength of the evidence, not the volume of responses’.