Scottish Pol Proposes Law to Permit Gay, Lesbian Wedding Discrimination

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 8, 2011

A Scottish National Party (SNP) leader has proposed a bill that would exempt anti-gay groups and individuals from performing, or providing services for, marriages between same-sex couples, reported the BBC on Aug, 7.

The politician, John Mason, received support from several other Scottish parliamentarians. But openly gay politician Alyn Smith has publicly decried the proposed legislation.

"What is in the small, mean, angry heads of bigots is a matter for them," wrote Smith in the newspaper Scotland on Sunday. "I have never asked for their approval, but I demand equality."

Mason responded that he personally is "perfectly relaxed about gay marriage," but that Scottish churches fear they may be compelled to perform marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian families or face lawsuits.

The BBC noted that the SNP has pressed for public hearings on marriage equality. The bill's text says that because some people do not approve of marriage equality, they ought to have the right not to "be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriage."

Scottish politicians Dave Thompson, Richard Lyle, and Bill Walker lent their support to the measure.

"In its election manifesto the SNP said it would hold a consultation on the issue of same-sex marriage," the BBC reported. "The Scottish Labor party has urged the First Minister to 'name a date' for a debate on the issue," the article added.

Smith was not alone in his denunciation of the bill, noted the British Press Association on Aug. 7. The proposal drew fire from other members of the SNP also.

"John Mason's nasty little anti-gay marriage motion is just wrong, and [I am] really disappointed that other colleagues have signed it," tweeted SNP member Pete Wishart, the Press Association reported.

Green Party leader Patrick Harvie condemned the proposal as being "specifically anti-gay," and Labor politician Johann Lamont called the bill a "coded attack" targeting gays.

Mason told the press that he was looking to keep the legislative debate on the issue from "just flowing in one direction."

"I'm perfectly relaxed about gay marriage but the fear amongst some of the churches is that if they're allowed to carry out same-sex marriage some will and some won't," Mason told the press. "The next step will be that someone goes to a church that doesn't want to and it will get taken to court."

But in the wider context of society overall, Mason said, the SNP is dedicated to providing for the needs of same-sex families.

"Clearly, right from the word go, there's been a commitment to move forward gay marriage," Mason said. "I want to say something to get the debate going here so it's not just flowing in the one direction."

Added Mason, "I'm perfectly relaxed about gay marriage but the fear amongst some of the churches is that if they're allowed to carry out same-sex marriage some will and some won't. The next step will be that someone goes to a church that doesn't want to and it will get taken to court. I'm assured that's not the intention, but I think that it will happen."

As for Smith's response, Mason said that it was "just part of politics. It's the game we're in." Mason called for calm and "reasonable debate," adding, "I knew something like this was going to happen."

The bill's language states, "That the Parliament notes... that while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them; desires that Scotland should be a pluralistic society where all minorities can live together in peace and mutual tolerance; believes that free speech is a fundamental right and that even when there is disagreement with another person's views, that person has the right to express these views, and considers that no person or organization should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages."

Gay and lesbian families in the United Kingdom have been allowed to enter into civil partnerships for the last six years. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Scotland in 1981.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.