The Scottish Government has announced that it intends to legislate to introduce same-sex marriage – however, the necessary legislation “will be accompanied by important protections for freedom of speech and religion” and “no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages”.
The press release notes that protection for religious bodies who do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages already exists under UK equality law; and the Scottish Government intends that where a body does decide to conduct same-sex marriages, individual celebrants who consider such ceremonies to be contrary to their faith will be protected. The press release points out that Schedule 23 to the Equality Act 2010 already has exemptions from equality requirements where these are necessary to comply with the doctrine of the organisation or to avoid conflict with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the followers of the religion or belief. However:
“To give certainty around this protection, we consider that an amendment to the UK Equality Act will be required. We will work with the UK Government to secure agreement to such an amendment before the formal introduction of a Bill to the Scottish Parliament and with a view to it being in place before the Bill comes into force.”
There will be a further consultation with stakeholders will now take place to inform the drafting of legislation and guidance and it will consider any additional measures that may be required to guarantee freedom of speech and religion in specific circumstances, including education.
A draft Bill will be published for consultation later in the year.
The Scottish Government also published two documents on the recent consultation:
Registration of Civil Partnerships, Same Sex Marriage: Consultation Analysis – the analysis of responses received in reaction to the Scottish Government consultation on same-sex marriage and the religious registration of civil partnership which closed on 9th December 2011; and
Consultation on the registration of civil partnership and same sex marriage – responses from organisations – just what is says on the tin.
There were 77,508 responses to the consultation. In relation to the main question on same-sex marriage (Q10), 62,057 (81 per cent) of responses were from people living in Scotland and 14,779 from people living elsewhere. In respect of the responses from those living in Scotland:
- Of standard responses, postcards and petitions taken together, 36 per cent of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and 64 per cent against.
- Of standard responses only, the situation was almost precisely reversed: 65 per cent of Scottish respondents were in favour of same sex marriage and 35 per cent against.
The analysis notes that though the majority came down firmly on one side of the argument or the other there was a consensus between the two sides that religious bodies or celebrants should not be required to undertake ceremonies which they were not comfortable with. Although approaching the basic proposals from very different starting points 93 per cent of respondents agreed that individual religious celebrants should not be required to solemnise same-sex marriages.