04 Dec 2013

Same Sex Marriage – Bill Passes First Stage in Parliament

Same Sex Marriage – Bill Passes First Stage in Parliament

Leah Bowman, Senior Solicitor, looks at the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

Leah Bowman, Senior Solicitor, looks at the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

On the 25th July 2012, the Scottish Government announced an intention to legislate to allow for same sex marriages.  This announcement came after the completion of a public consultation on the issue.  This consultation drew a record number of 77,508 responses, with all but 375 of them being submitted by individual members of the public.  On 26th June 2013, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill was introduced and on 20th November 2013, the Bill passed the first of three stages in Parliament, by 98 votes to 15, with five abstentions.

Amongst other things, the Bill covers the introduction of same sex marriage and the process for civil partnerships changing to marriages.  Ministers have advised that no part of the religious community would be forced to hold ceremonies for same sex couples in churches.  The Bill has received wide-spread support from gay rights organisations.  However, it has also received opposition from the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church.  If passed, it is thought that the first same sex marriage could take place in 2015.

Current Law

Presently, under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977, any two persons may marry in Scotland providing that they fulfil six key requirements.  One such requirement is that the couple are not of the same sex.  A marriage can either take place through a religious or civil ceremony.

Civil partnerships were established by the UK wide Statute, the Civil Partnership Act 2004.  This Act allows same sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship.  The rights and responsibilities of civil partners are virtually identical to that of spouses, although in Scotland, civil partnership ceremonies may not take place in religious premises and the partnership can only be registered by a civil registrar.

England and Wales

On 17th July 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, was passed.  This Act makes the marriage of same sex couples lawful.  This has paved the way for the first same sex marriages to take place in the summer of 2014.

The Scottish Government’s intention for change

When announcing the intention of the Government, Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon stated the following;

“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 it 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….

The Scottish Government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same sex marriages and we reiterate that today.  Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws…

Scotland is by no means the first and will not be the last country to legalise same sex marriage.  However, as we proceed towards legislation, our overriding concern will be to respect the variety of views that exist on this issue and do whatever we can to address those concerns that have been expressed, while ensuring that Scotland lives up to its aspiration to be an equal and tolerant society.”

It remains to be seen how issues raised by those opposed to the Bill will be addressed now that the Bill will move to stages two and three of Parliamentary debate.

Leah Bowman, Senior Solicitor

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