The SNP and Equal Marriage

The SNP must be wishing that they had never opened the can of worms that is labelled Marriage Law Reform. However, the truth is, it isn’t really they who have opened it. Equal Marriage is simply an idea whose time has come. It just so happens that the SNP find themselves needing to address the question at a time which is perhaps not particularly fortuitous to them.

One way or another, Equal Marriage is coming. The choice the SNP must feel as though they are in the middle of making will appear to many however as not being a simple choice between allowing same-sex couples to marry or not. What they appear to be vacillating over is the kind of Scotland they want to project as the great vision for the future. Are we going to be seen as a progressive nation with a modern, can-do parliament enacting social legislation which has majority support behind it. Or alternatively are we going to appear to be run by a governing party which can’t seem to make its mind up and which will bow in submission to the loudest and most angry voices – in this case, that of Cardinal O’Brien.

It is worth noting in passing the complete contrast between Cardinal O’Brien and Prof John Haldane who appeared on Newsnight a couple of days ago as someone speaking from a Roman Catholic perspective. Prof Haldane seemed reasonable, intelligent and sane. (He is). He also appeared to be saying that so long as no-one was forced to marry couples whom they didn’t want to marry, he personally didn’t care what happened to gay folk and was more than happy that they had partnership law to regulate their relationships. Towards the end of the piece, he made a plea for civility in the debate which the cynic might have thought was directed less at the supporters of Equal Marriage so much as towards his own Cardinal.

Yesterday the SNP Cabinet rather foolishly seemed to be letting it be known that they would come to a mind on the Equal Marriage question yesterday and great expectations were raised. In the end they didn’t come to a mind and were left looking at best as though they’d never heard of a competent communications policy and at worst as putting themselves on the wrong side of history.

I don’t happen to think that the SNP Cabinet is necessarily going to do something which I would disagree with. We need to wait and see. They say we will have more answers by the end of the month and I’m prepared to wait for them and make my mind up on the basis of what they decide. I still think that Equal Marriage is very much the topic on the table and I think that the SNP would probably rather deal with it all sooner rather than later to better ensure that it does not get caught up in their independence referendum.

Yesterday was a not a victory for clear government communications nor the end of the culture wars surrounding marriage law in the 21st century world. However, the Scottish Cabinet could not have slapped down Cardinal O’Brien’s request for a referendum on the issue more clearly. It was a foolish idea to start with and has been shown to be so by those elected to take decisions on our behalf.

I long for the day when we have marriage law that allows same-sex couples to marry just like anyone else. And I’m going to rejoice in yesterday’s rejection of a referendum on that question as simply another step on the way.

And along with many people of goodwill, I look for more progress in this area.

And quickly please, Ms Sturgeon. Much more quickly now, please.


  1. I think the issue is that the SNP Government is going to authorise religious same sex marriages as well as civil ones.

    It would be an obvious compromise to allow civil weddings but not religious ones – that seems to be the route the UK Govt will go down.

    It would be tempting for the SG to do the same. It’s a neat solution – that way they could say there is no question of religious denominations being forced to perform same sex marriages. It will only be civil ceremonies.

    And, let’s face it, although there are some religious denominationa which support same sex marriage – Unitarians, Quakers, Liberal Jews, Pagan Federation etc – how many Unitarians, Quakers, Liberal Jews, Pagans etc are actually out there? They are very much outnumbered by the Catholics, Muslims and fundamentalist Protestants aren’t they?

    But for some reason the SG has decided to go for the option which allows religious as well as civil same sex marriages. We can only assume that, for them, that is actually an issue of principle, of support for religious freedom.

    But it makes it more complicated doesn’t it? Because they have to find a way to protect the rights of religious denominations which wish to conduct same sex marriages while also protecting the rights of religious denominations who do not want to conduct same sex marriages. And do that in the context of legislation which protects religious rights, freedom of speech and equality which is not within their control.

  2. Putting aside any issues of substance here, I’m not sure you’re being quite accurate in your interpretation of John Haldane’s Newsnicht appearance. He was careful to distinguish between civil partnerships and same sex marriage, saying that the latter had to be discussed within an understanding of the ‘common good’ (a discussion which the programme didn’t have time to allow). I’d be amazed if he’s changed his opposition to same sex marriage (expressed quite regularly in the media eg in the Beyond Belief programme here

    As to whether Haldane was criticizing the Cardinal -I suspect any interpretation along these lines would require quite a degree of cynicism (or wishful thinking!) given his previously highly supportive attitude (eg

  3. Jaye Richards-Hill says

    I met him when Ruth and I did the Big Questions earlier this year. Apparently, Haldane is an advisor to Pope Benedict….

  4. There may not be many Unitarians, Quakers, Reform Jews in Scotland but there are a lot of Humanist weddings (I believe in Scotland in 2010 the number of weddings by Humanist celebrants exceeded the number of Catholic weddings) so they are the biggest group performing legally recognized opposite-sex marriages who would like to perform legally recognized same-sex marriages (as opposed to a ceremony after a same-sex marriage has been registered at the registry office).

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