[UPDATE] See comments below re ‘celebrants’. I stand happily corrected!
I felt nothing but pride yesterday when the Scottish Government opened their consultation on marriage equality, with Nicola Sturgeon stating that they are leaning towards a more equal Scotland. Whilst a commitment to a consultation on the issue was in this years election manifesto, it was in no way certain that the government would back moves towards same-sex marriage. Though there have been opposing voices within the party, the SNP has shown that they are a party that can have internal debate on an issue and come out stronger. The debate has only just begun but I am sure, in spite of some of my previous comments, the party can come out stronger than before.
The consultation will look at 3 issues:
The third will be the most contentious given John Mason’s recent Parliamentary motion. The fact that religious organisations shouldn’t be forced to perform same-sex marriages is a given. The fear of some is that equality and human rights legislation may be used by some to challenge this. I personally see why someone would go to court to be married in a church that didn’t want to marry them but I can understand that it is a possibility. I would be interested to find out what the situation is in countries like Spain that already have same-sex marriage and a strong religious community.
What worries me more is the second part: ‘celebrants do not have to register civil partnerships against their will’. Does this mean that registrars could refuse to conduct same-sex marriages on religious grounds? If so could we see situations were there are areas where all registrars refuse to conduct civil weddings for gay couples (such as in the Western Isles) and couples have to get married in an area that is not their home. Currently, Western Isles Council refuse to carry out ceremonies for civil partnerships but allow the partnership to be registered. Would any registrars even do this if the couples were registering marriages? There is currently a case before the European Court of Human Rights concerning a registrar from England who refused to conduct civil partnerships and was sacked as a result. It will be interesting to find out the results of this case, I am sure it will help inform the debate in Scotland.
As I said the last time I discussed this issue, the debate has only begun. I have now, eventually, added a comments facility on this page so please do leave me some thoughts so we can get the debate going!