‘The right thing to do’: Scotland to legalise gay marriage

By Cassie Chambers

Scotland will become the first part of the UK to introduce gay marriage legislation, the Scottish government announced today.

In a much-anticipated decision on the controversial issue, the government confirmed that it will soon introduce a bill to make same-sex marriage legal.

"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," deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

"We believe this is the right thing to do."

The announcement follows a consultation which saw three times as many participants as the same process for Scottish independence.

The government confirmed that the legislation will give same-sex couples the right to marry but will not force religious institutions to perform the ceremonies.

"We are also deeply committed to freedom of speech and religion. The concerns of those who do not favour same sex marriage require to be properly addressed," the deputy first minister said.

Currently same-sex couples in Scotland can enter into civil partnerships, which carry the same legal rights but not the same social status as marriage.

The fight over extension of marriage rights has become increasingly controversial in recent weeks, as the "rainbow coalition" that supports same-sex marriage has repeatedly butted heads with the religion-heavy coalition that opposes it.

"Today is a proud day for Scotland…With cross-party support for equality in the Scottish Parliament we would expect that this change can be passed next year," the policy coordinator for the Equality Network, Tom French, said.

He went on to add that he believed the compromise in the government's legislation was "the right way for Scotland to deal with the different opinions on this".

In a recent newspaper article the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland argued legalisation would pose a "danger…to the very meaning of marriage".

The government announcement comes just one day after David Cameron confirmed he will try to pass legislation to legalise same-sex marriage in the UK by 2015.

"I think marriage is a great institution. It's something I feel passionately about and I think if it's good enough for straight people like me, its good enough for everybody and that's why we should have gay marriage and we will," the prime minister said.

The issue of same-sex marriage has been a controversial one for the majority Scottish National Party (SNP), who pledged to support gay marriage as part of its campaign for a more "equal" society.

Yet government concerns that the issue may "alienate" voters ahead of the fast-approaching independence referendum led to speculation last week that Scotland would hold off on introducing legislation until after UK parliament moved on the issue.