The Scottish Government has indicated that the first same-sex marriages in Scotland could take place before the end of 2014 if the Scottish Parliament passes the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill in a final vote today (4 February 2014).
After six years of campaigning, the Equality Network will be holding a final rally in support of the equal marriage outside the Scottish Parliament at 1.30pm before the debate and vote takes place. This will include support from clergy and other religious figures.
The Catholic Church and other faith bodies have fought a vigorous campaign against the legislation, which nevertheless makes fair provision for their right not to take part in solemnising same-sex unions.
However, a growing number of people within and across the churches and faith bodies support the move – either because they back same-sex marriage, or because they recognise that the state cannot be required to withhold it because their own communities do, and because no compulsion is involved.
Those actively backing marriage equality provision have included Quakers, Reform and Liberal Judaism, the United Reformed Church, affirming groups within the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church, Accepting Evangelicals, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, and a wide range of of equality and reform groups within both faith and civic constituencies.
Due to the length of time needed to pass secondary legislation and implement all the measures in the Bill, it was initially expected that the first same-sex marriages would not take place until spring 2015, but the Scottish Government have now said they are committed to commencing the legislation as soon as possible and will work with the UK Government to speed up the process if the Bill passes its stage 3 vote at Holyrood.
A Scottish Government spokesperson told the Sunday Herald newspaper at the weekend: “Should the bill pass this week, we would be looking forward to the first marriages as soon as possible.” A Government source added that ministers were confident that that would be before the end of the year.
Alex Neil, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, is expected to make an announcement on the timing of the first same-sex marriage ceremonies during today’s debate.
The Equality Network, the Scottish LGBT equality charity, welcomed the news.
Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Network, said: "We want to see the first same-sex marriages take place in Scotland as soon as possible, so we are delighted to hear that the Scottish Government are working to make that happen. If our MSPs pass the equal marriage bill this week 2014 will be a milestone year for LGBT equality in Scotland.
"We know that many couples across the country are looking forward to planning their wedding and its great news that their big day may now come about rather sooner than expected.”
The stage 3 debate on the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill this Tuesday will give MSPs a final chance to make any amendments to the legislation before deciding whether to pass it into law.
If the Bill passes, Scotland will become the 17th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, joining the Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Canada (2005), South Africa (2006), Portugal (2008), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Argentina (2010), Iceland (2010), Denmark (2012), France (2013), New Zealand (2013), Uruguay (2013), Brazil (2013), England and Wales (2013) and parts of the USA and Mexico.
The Equality Network has described today's vote as a milestone in Scottish history, “Thirty-four years after Scotland decriminalised homosexuality in 1980 the Scottish Parliament will have the historic chance to remove this last major piece of sexual orientation discrimination from Scots law and secure legal equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”
The charity has commended changes made to the Bill by the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee at stage 2, which have improved the way the legislation delivers equality for transgender people.
“Scotland now has one of the fairest and most progressive equal marriage bills in the world, securing greater equality for LGBT people and strengthening freedom of religion and belief for all. That’s why the Equality Network strongly believes the time spent considering and consulting on the bill has been well-and-truly worth it,” said Mr French.
Similar legislation in England and Wales has taken almost nine months to implement, with the first same-sex marriages there expected on 29 March 2014 following the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on 16 July 2013.
Opinion polls have shown consistent public support for same-sex marriage across Scotland. A poll conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Equality Network in June 2012 showed record support with 64 [er 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 launched ‘Equal Marriage’, the UK’s first major campaign for same-sex marriage, in 2008.