Referendum? On a human rights issue?

At least one of the front pages of the Scottish newspapers is going to be full of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s call for a referendum to be held on Equal Marriage – that being the issue that the Scottish Cabinet is due to talk about and hopefully make its mind up about on Tuesday. I think that there are a lot of people who would feel rather queasy at the idea of having a referendum on the human rights of others in society.

Here’s what I say:

The voice of Scotland’s Roman Catholic Cardinal is sounding ever more shrill as he appears to be losing the argument. These days, many view Equal Marriage as a human rights issue rather than something that one church should be able to rule out simply because of its own moral code. The time has come for the Scottish Government to legislate for Equal Marriage. If religious people do not want to conduct such marriages then that should be up to them – after all, no religious celebrant is ever forced to conduct any marriage currently and no religious celebrant will be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage if the law changes. The Roman Catholic Cardinal is not the moral arbiter of Scottish society. The decision about Equal Marriage should properly be taken by those elected to take it. The sooner that the Scottish Parliament gets a chance to vote for Equal Marriage the better. Marriage as an institution will be strengthened and reinforced as the gold-standard for human relationships when it is open to same-sex couples in the same way that it is currently open to couples of the opposite sex.


  1. Calum says

    “The Roman Catholic Cardinal is not the moral arbiter of Scottish society.”

    Agreed. It’s shocking that this one person is given so much time and space in the media.

  2. And since when was SS marriage a human right?

  3. Claire says

    As a Scottish Roman Catholic it pains me deeply that this man is the image that others may hold of myself. I am pro-equal marriage. Unconditional life-long love is such a rare beauty that if ANY two people want to encapsulate that in a marriage then they should be commended and celebrated, not shunned and ridiculed.

  4. Referenda ought to be used sparingly and then only for major constitutional realignment. Calls for a referendum further endanger representative democracy in seeking to by-pass elected representatives (note: not mandated delegates). Our representatives need our support despite and because of their frailties. We depend on their good judgement more than we realise. I’m not setting them up as paragons of wisdom and virtue but arguing that a referendum on a social issue (let alone a civil or human rights issue) places minorities in the hands of majorities that may have dangerous biases.
    A referendum on the death penalty, or on immigration, or on categories of welfare benefit could produce cruel results.
    Representative democracy is not perfect but better than other more direct forms of democracy.
    On the specific of same-sex marriage I don’t see the Cardinal’s logic. If politicians do not have a moral right to ‘redefine’ marriage in the light of natural law and God’s revealed intentions for humanity then how does a majority vote by citizens legitimate such a revision?

  5. Steven says

    Article 12 ECHR enshrines the right to marry subject to national laws. Those national laws currently restrict the right so that only heterosexual unions can be recognised as such. However, this legal restriction must not unlawfully discriminate against other persons, including Gay and Lesbian folk who wish to marry. Discrimination on this basis can only be justified if there is an objective and reasonable justification. The law now permits same-sex adoption in the UK and so it seems to me legally inconceivable that it shall not now permit equal marriage.

    Ergo – there is, in my view, already a legal right to equal marriage [in so far as the current restrictions are themselves unlawful].

    Indeed I am surprised that a test case has not been brought to challenge the current restriction although in the mouth of potential legislative change a court would be slow to get involved.

    For those who are interested in the legal aspects, a good starting point is to consider the Northern Irish case on unmarried couples and adoption, P (A Child) (Adoption: Unmarried Couples) [2008] UKHL 38.

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