Christians welcome vote for Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill

By staff writers
November 21, 2013

A leading equality campaigner who is also a senior Scottish Episcopalian has welcomed the overwhelming first vote on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill in parliament last night.

Speaking in a personal capacity on STV's 'Scotland Tonight' news programme after the vote on 20 November 2013, the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of Glasgow Cathedral, described the vote as a moment of "celebration" and said that it would be "life changing" for many lesbian and gay people who would now be able to express their love and commitment to the full. "This is an amazing stepping stone towards equality," he added.

This morning, Kelvin Holdsworth added on his website: "It was not just parliamentary process that was affecting me last night. It was the sight of one politician after another standing up and speaking positively about gay couples they know, changes in society that have made life easier for gay people or in some cases talking about themselves as gay parliamentarians.

"It is difficult for me to convey what this feels like to straight people. When I was growing up you simply saw no-one say anything positive about something that is pretty fundamental to who you are. Indeed, you either got negative messages or a corrupting silence which you somehow knew you were supposed to keep.

"Times have changed and that is why evenings like last night mean so much and in the end it was a decisive victory in the Parliament – 98 votes to 15 with five abstentions."

Scottish Quakers have also warmly welcomed the vote, with Phil Lucas commenting: “For us it’s a matter of justice and equality. We want this because Quakers have a longstanding commitment to equality and we wish to express our belief in the right of all committed couples who love each other to be treated equally.”

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, who is based in Edinburgh, commented: "This is a historic moment. Ekklesia supported the proposal to to introduce same sex marriage and religious and belief registration of civil partnership on theological as well as equal rights grounds in our consultation submission to the Scottish Government in March 2013.

"It is now clear that this legislation will go forward, and in the process we hope that many with continuing doubts and fears will gradually be won over to its fairness and appropriateness.

"There is, however, more work to be done. The Bill now goes back to the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee, who will consider amendments before MSPs vote on the final version of at stage three early in 2014.

"Ekklesia's overall preference in the long run would be to distinguish legal marriage, as a civil provision, from religious or belief blessings and recognition, as we set out in our 2006 paper, 'What Future for Marriage?'. This would avoid a great deal of conflict and confusion.

"But the vote by the Scottish Parliament last night, supported by people of specific faith and good faith, will be seen by many as a moment for celebration. It is clearly a huge step forward."

There was a less positive response from Scotland's largest denomination. The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, said in a press statement last night that it stands by "the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman."

Commenting after the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee approved Stage One of a bill which could in the future result in same sex marriage becoming legal by 2015, Kirk spokesman the Rev Dr Alan Hamilton said: “Until any future General Assembly of the Church of Scotland decides otherwise, that remains our position. But our commitment to care for all people, gay and straight is no less. We stand against homophobia.”

Dr Hamilton, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Legal Questions Committee added: “We also recognise that there is a wide spread of public opinion about whether legalising same sex marriage is the right thing, and that spread of public opinion is reflected among members of our congregations across the country. One thing is very clear and that is there is not unanimous support for this legislation in Scotland.

“As the bill progresses through Holyrood, the Church of Scotland will continue to be a constructive voice in the national debate about it. We would also seek robust and detailed legal assurances and protection for those who do not wish to conduct same sex marriages as a matter of conscience."

But supporters of equal marriage say that continual harping on about assurances, which are clearly set out in the Bill, amount to "fear-mongering".

"We don’t want any more 'safeguards' in the bill – they are largely unnecessary anyway," the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth told 'Scotland Tonight'. No-one is going to be forced to marry or be married, he said. "That is a nonsense."

The Church of Scotland also confirmed last night that it "is conducting a wide-ranging review of marriage but there are no plans on the table for the Church to stop conducting marriages.”

The leaderships of the major Christian denominations in Scotland, including the Catholic bishops, have continued to oppose marriage equality, while opinion polls suggest that a significant number of their members support it.

The United Reformed Church, Reform Judaism, Quakers, Unitarians and a range of other Christian and faith agencies, including the Faith in Marriage coalition, Affirmation Scotland, LGCM and Ekklesia, have supported the change.

Meanwhile, Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Equality Network, said: “Last night the Scottish Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to back same-sex marriage and uphold the principle that we should all be equal under the law. This vote is a huge step forward which will send out a strong message that LGBT people are equal and valued members of our society.

"While there is still more work to do to improve the bill and ensure it becomes law, LGBT people across the country will be celebrating this significant milestone in the journey towards full equality.”

Opinion polls have shown consistent public support for same-sex marriage across Scotland. The most recent poll was conducted in June 2012 by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Equality Network. It showed record support with 64 per cent of Scots in favour of same-sex marriage, and just 26 per cent opposed. Separate polls conducted over the past three years by Populus, YouGov, Angus Reid, and the independent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, have all shown similar levels of support.

The Equality Network point out that equal marriage is fast becoming an international norm. Most countries around Scotland already have same-sex marriage, including Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal. While the UK parliament passed same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales earlier this year, and Ireland has announced it will hold a vote in 2015.

The Equality Network launched Equal Marriage, the UK’s first major campaign for same-sex marriage in 2008.

* Watch the 'Scotland Tonight' interview: http://news.stv.tv/scotland/249556-scotland-tonight-will-same-sex-marria...

* Kelvin Holdsworth's weblog: http://thurible.net

* Voting on stage one of the Bill: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-25018895

* Ekklesia's response to the Scottish government consultation on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18209

* 'Marriage, union or contract?', by Ekklesia associate Savitri Hensman, with a link to the 2006 report, 'What Future for Marriage?': http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17935

* Quakers welcome MSPs' support for equal marriage: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19493

* Affirmation Scotland: http://www.affirmationscotland.org.uk

* Faith in Marriage: https://www.facebook.com/FaithInMarriage

* The Equality Network, a national Scottish charity working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality and human rights: http://www.equality-network.org

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