The Scottish government's publication of proposed legislation to introduce same-sex marriage and accompanying reforms has been welcomed by civic groups.
The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland are among the denominations and faith groups strongly opposed to change. But other religious groups, human rights campaigners, community organisations, individual ministers and equality groups are firmly in favour.
A public consultation on the on the draft Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill, launched today, will run until 20 March 2013.
The Scottish Government announced its plans to legalise same-sex marriage in July 2012, following a consultation which attracted 80,000 responses.
Religious and other belief-based bodies, including humanists, would need to "opt in" to perform same-sex marriages under the proposed law.
As well as same-sex marriage, the new draft Bill sets out provisions to allow civil marriage ceremonies to take place anywhere agreed by both the registrar and the couple, other than religious premises; to establish belief ceremonies such as humanist ceremonies as a third form of marriage ceremony in Scotland, alongside religious and civil ceremonies; and to introduce religious and belief ceremonies for civil partnerships.
Tom French, policy co-ordinator for the Equality Network, said: "Today Scotland has taken a huge step forward towards full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
He continued: "We welcome the draft equal marriage Bill, wholeheartedly agree with the proposals and look forward to engaging in the consultation on its implementation. This is a simple matter of equality and religious freedom. LGBT people deserve equal rights under the law, including the right to get married to the person they love."
"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," said Mr French.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, who is based in Edinburgh, said: "This draft Bill is a major step forward for marriage equality in Scotland and in these islands as a whole. Equally importantly, it enshrines freedom of conscience and religion in its provisions. It rightly allows, but deliberately does not compel, religious and humanist bodies to conduct same-sex marriages, according to their own traditions."
"Under this proposed law, those who dissent from equal marriage are free not to recognise it within their own communities. But they cannot stop those of religious or non-religious conviction who wish to celebrate it from doing so. That is only right and fair. We will now be looking at the details as part of the public consultation," said the thinktank.
The United Reformed Church, Quakers and Liberal Jews, as well as individual ministers, lay people from the main Christian denominations, and other faiths are also supportive.
The Rev Maud Robinson, Unitarian Minister at St Mark’s Unitarian Church, Edinburgh, reflected the feelings of the denomination in Scotland, declaring: “Scottish Unitarians warmly welcome the draft bill and its provisions to allow religious bodies to conduct same-sex marriages. Unitarian Ministers and Marriage Celebrants are looking forward to welcoming same-sex couples to be married in our churches.”
"Unitarians in Scotland are pleased that Scotland will be offering the same rights and choices in regard to marriage, that are at present enjoyed by mixed-sex couples, to those in same-sex relationships," said Joan Cook, President of the Scottish Unitarian Association.
Grant Costello, chairman of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: "The Scottish Youth Parliament is delighted to see the Scottish Government bringing forward a Bill to allow equal marriage in Scotland. The overwhelming majority of young Scots believe two people who love each other should be able to get married, and it's great to see the voice of young people being listened to and acted upon."
"We will look very closely at the draft legislation, and work with the Scottish Government and our campaigning partners to ensure this Bill brings true marriage equality to Scotland without delay," he added.
* Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/12/9433/0
* 'Should equal marriage be rejected or celebrated by Christians?', by Savitri Hensman - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17245
* Ekklesia's official response to Scottish Government proposals on same-sex marriage (10 December 2011) - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15883