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Same-sex civil partnerships & marriages (SSM) in Scotland

Part 7: 2014-FEB-04: The Marriage and Civil
Partnership (Scotland) Bill
becomes law.
Reactions. Will there be human rights conflicts?

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This topic is continued from Part 6

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2014-FEB-04: The Scottish Government passes the bill to legalize same-sex marriages:

Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted 105 to 18 in favor of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill at about 6:38 PM local time. Scotland became the 17th country in the world to make marriage available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. 1,5

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Some provisions of the new law:

  • The bill allows a transgender married individual to stay married when they obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate that recognizes the new gender identity of one of the spouses. The similar bill passed into law in 2013 in England and Wales requires them to divorce first.

  • The Scottish Government reached an agreement with the UK Parliament to change the UK Equality Act to protect individual Scottish clergy from court actions claiming discrimination if they want to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

  • The new law allows Humanists to solemnize secular same-sex marriages, unlike the law for England and Wales.

  • The Church of Scotland, which has the status of the national Church of Scotland, 2 the Catholic Church, and a few small denominatons currently oppose same-sex marriage. However, they will be able to opt into solemnizing same-sex marriages in the future if they decide to change their position.

  • Clergy, congregations, and faith groups will be able to freely choose to marry same-sex couples, subject to the rules of their denomination.

  • Religious institutions will be able to freely discriminate against same-sex couples by not allowing them to be married on their premises.

  • Civil marriages can be solemnized at any location agreeable to the engaged couple, the registrar, and the owner of the property.

  • The Scottish Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and some other small faith groups had opposed the bill, and will not be marrying same-sex couples for the foreseeable future.

Some have speculated that same-sex marriages will begin in the fall of 2014. No specific date was announced at the time that the bill was passed.

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Reactions to the passage of the bill:

  • Buddhists, Humanists, The Society of Friends (a.k.a. Quakers), Unitarians, and the Pagan Federation have all supported the bill and are pleased with its passage. 4

  • Tom French, policy coordinator for the Equality Network, issued a statement saying, in part:

    "Today will be remembered in history as the day that lesbian, gay and bisexual people were finally granted full legal equality in Scotland, and given an equal right to marry the person they love.

    "This is a profoundly emotional moment for many people who grew up in a country where being gay was still a criminal offence until 1980. Scotland can be proud that we now have one of the most progressive equal marriage bills in the world, and that we’ve sent out a strong message about the kind of country we are.

    We know this change means so much to LGBT people across Scotland and we look forward to the first same-sex marriages taking place as soon as possible." 4

  • Alan Hamilton, convener of the Church of Scotland legal questions committee, said that:

    "The Church of Scotland holds to the mainstream Christian belief that marriage is properly [only] between a man and a woman."

He also said that its marriages may be:

"... forced out of the present legal framework [as a result of the bill.] We are also concerned that public servants, particularly registrars and teachers, who do not support same-sex marriage, may find themselves disadvantaged in the workplace." 3

The Church had earlier expressed concern that the protections offered by the bill to prevent legal challenges from same-sex couples who want to be married in the church are inadequate. They said that they may be forced to stop solemnizing all marriages in order to avoid massive legal costs.

  • Alex Neil. the Health secretary, told Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) that they were doing a:

    "... remarkable thing [in passing new laws]. ... We are saying on behalf of Scotland to the world, loud and clear, that we believe in recognizing love between same-sex couples as we do between opposite-sex couples. ... Today is a momentous day for equality in our nation. This legislation sends a powerful message to the world about the kind of society we in Scotland are trying to create -- a nation where the principles of fairness and equality are weaved into the very fabric of our society."

  • Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, a pro-LGBT group, said:

    "We’re delighted that MSPs have overwhelmingly demonstrated that they’re committed to building a Scotland fit for the 21st century."

  • Scotland for Marriage is the main advocacy group that has opposed SSM. An unidentified spokesperson said:

    "The overwhelming majority of MSPs have ignored public opinion and steamrollered through a law which is ill-conceived, poorly thought out and will, in time, discriminate against ordinary people for their sincerely held beliefs." 3

  • Jackie Baillie, a Labour MSP said of the bill:

    "It’s time for change, it’s time to support equal marriage."

  • Jackson Carlaw, a Tory MSP has been married for 26 years. He commented that there was a:

    "... celebratory attitude [in Parliament during the debate.] I want every couple in Scotland regardless of their sex to be able to have exactly the same opportunity to enjoy the long and happy marriage we have had."

  • Jim Hume, a Liberal Democrat MSP said:

    "We want Scotland to be one of the fairest and most equal places in the world."

  • "HughOxford2" posted an eloquently written comment on the article in The Scotsman opposing SSM:

    "The problem with "same-sex marriage" is not so much that it requires us to defy our conscience or religious beliefs, but that it demands we totally suspend our reason and judgment.

    And this is the problem. As long as there are free, sentient people in Scotland, there will always be people who are capable of examining the evidence and thinking things through.

    And they will ask themselves how an institution - marriage - whose specific, unique, distinguishing and distinct characteristic is that it recognises the creation of new biological and sexual unions, uniting the two halves of humanity, that it is specifically about the recognition of gender difference and complementarity and all the vital things that flow from that, can at the same time be 'genderless' and unrelated to its distinct character. They will wonder how three completely different things can be contained in one paradigm.

    And then they will realise that marriage is not legal or political at all. It is biological, anthropological and physical. The law has no purview over that physical reality - it's licit relationship to that reality is subordinate, to recognise it, not as a master to control it.

    'Same-sex marriage' is not 'secular progress', it is ontological fraud, and at the heart of that fraud is a lie: not that all people should be treated equally under the law (they should), but that male and female are irrelevant and undesirable constructs to be abolished with the full force of the state.

    As long as the law holds a factually incorrect legal definition of marriage, the state will be in conflict with at the very least a large section of society, especially those with an interest in the future, and a desire to live under just and reasonable laws.

    The banal self-congratulation that we witnessed in the chamber last night, the vacuous platitudes and solipsistic self-congratulation, were really just the noise of a political class so divorced from reality that they are alienating the people they serve. It will not end well, and it will almost certainly end in the courts at the government's expense." 3

  • And then, there was a brief comment by "Irritatingly Intelligent Chauvinist" who posted:

    "I want to marry Flossy, my sheep. She's beautiful and I love her." 3

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Will there be human rights conflicts in the future because of this new law?

In the U.S., there have occasionally been conflicts between county clerks who issue marriage licenses and same-sex couples seeking such licenses. Some clerks have claimed that their religious freedom to discriminate supercedes their oath of office which requires them to follow state laws and the state and federal constitutions. In some states in the U.S. registrars have been able to work out a compromise in which another official in the office deals with all same-sex couples seeking marriage licences. In other cases, they have decided that their only honorable option was to resign.

In Scotland, the Human Rights Act 1998 protects individuals from discrimination by government offices and local authorities based on the former's sexual orientation and other grounds. This may place some local registrars who issue marriage licenses in a difficult position. They are required by their oath of office to follow Scottish legislation which now includes issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On the other hand, some may feel that they are forbidden to do so based on their interpretation of the anti-gay "clobber passages" in the Bible that are often used to justify discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals. There may well be future conflicts in Scotland similar to those occasionally seen in U.S. county offices.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Scotland's same-sex marriage bill is passed," BBC News/Scotland, 2014-FEB-04, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
  2. "How we are organized," The Church of Scotland, 2014, at: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/
  3. Scott Macnab, "Same-sex marriage: MSPs pass gay marriage bill," The Scotsman, 2014-FEB-05, at: http://www.scotsman.com/
  4. "Gay marriage legalised in Scotland following historic vote at Holyrood," Daily Record, 2014-FEB-04, at: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/
  5. "Live Blog: Scottish Parliament’s Stage 3 Debate on equal marriage," Pink News, 2014-FEB-03, at: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/
  6. Magnus Gardham, "New poll shows majority of Scots in favour of same-sex marriage," Herald Scotland, 2013-DEC-05, at: http://www.heraldscotland.com/

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 Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM > Scotland > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-FEB-05
Latest update: 2014-FEB-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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