Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Equal marriage to be introduced in Scotland

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The Scottish government has this morning confirmed that it will introduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

Announcing the plans, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stressed that religious organisations will not be compelled to conduct gay marriages, and said that the government will take steps to protect the freedom of speech of those who oppose the legislation:
"The Scottish Government understands and respects the fact that there are very deeply held views in Scotland both for and against same sex marriage and, in coming to our decision, we have had to carefully consider a number of different factors.
We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe that this is the right thing to do.

We are also mindful of the fact that the leaders of all of the other parties represented in parliament support same sex marriage and that there is significant parliamentary support for legislation.

However, we are also deeply committed to freedom of speech and religion. The concerns of those who do not favour same sex marriage require to be properly addressed. It is therefore right that the next step in this process will be to consult stakeholders on any provisions that may be required, in either statute or guidance, to protect these important principles and address specific concerns that have been expressed."
Scotland will be the first part of the UK to introduce equal marriage, but England and Wales look likely follow in the near future. The Coalition government recently carried out a public consultation on the issue, and at a reception for LGBT representatives at Downing Street yesterday, the Prime Minister David Cameron told guests that he is "absolutely determined" to introduce the reforms by the end of the current Parliament in 2015.

Update: It's interesting to read the BBC's round up of reactions from various individuals and groups to this news. The strongest reaction comes from the Catholic Church, which says:
"The Scottish government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale. However, the church looks much further than the short-term electoral time-scales of politicians.

"We strongly suspect that time will show the church to have been completely correct in explaining that same-sex sexual relationships are detrimental to any love expressed within profound friendships.

"However, in the short term and long term the church does not see same-sex marriage as an appropriate and helpful response to same-sex attraction."
Opponents of the reforms have continually stressed that it is not homophobic to oppose, to use their term, "the redefinition of marriage", but when you analyse comments such as those above (or the warnings of "profound consequences" that you see on the Coalition for Marriage website) it's hard to see how their arguments can be perceived as anything other than homophobic.

The term "homophobia" has, of course, evolved to refer to any form of bigotry and prejudice towards gays, but if we leave aside the debate as to whether opponents of same-sex marriage are bigoted, and just take the word "homophobia" in its literal sense, it would be hard to dispute that groups opposing the reforms are afraid of same-sex marriage. Their warnings of "profound consequences" and "a dangerous social experiment" clearly illustrate this.

What would be useful would be if they could explain exactly what it is they are afraid of. In its statement, the Catholic Church in Scotland suggests that in the future it will be vindicated in its opposition to equal marriage. It's a warning that almost feels apocalyptic in character – what does it think will happen that will have us all running for the hills, overcome with regret that we didn't listen to the Catholic case against same-sex marriage?

To warn of such a scenario is to express a fear of equal marriage, and that surely can only be defined as homophobia.
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