Over 1,000 equal-marriage campaigners, including hundreds of students from across Scotland, marched to Holyrood this Valentine’s Day to keep up the pressure on the Scottish Government for a change in the law that would allow same-sex couples to marry.
The march brings the issue back into public view after a public consultation conducted by the Scottish Government closed on 9 December 2011.
Since Westminster passed the Civil Partnership Act 2004, same-sex couples wishing to have their relationship legally recognised may enter into a ‘civil partnership’, which carries many but not all of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage.
The Equal Marriage Campaign, co-ordinated by the Equality Network, argues that not only are civil partnerships “symbolically different” from marriage but they “do not carry the same social significance, and cannot be described as equality”. They claim this points to the existence of "a ‘separate but equal’ segregated system of family law” that sends out the message that same-sex couples are “different and inferior”.
Tom French, policy coordinator for the Equality Network spoke to The Journal as campaigners assembled in Bristo Square: “It’s not just about marriage, it’s about the message that this sends to society. If we are trying to tackle homophobia in society, the root of that is the idea that LGBT people are different or inferior. So if the law is essentially saying that they’re different and they’re inferior it’s going to reinforce that sentiment.”
“If you split marriage on the basis of any other factor —say race for example — if the government said ‘we don’t want mixed race couples to get married, but it’s okay because we’ll give them their own separate institution called civil partnerships’, most people would say that that was racist. We’re saying that it’s the same with LGBT people.”
Mr French urges students to take on a key role in the campaign, stating: “we want to see students doing what they’re doing in America, Australia, and Scotland: leading the movement for this progressive change.”
Nathan Sparkling, LGBT Officer for the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, concurs, describing the campaign as of great importance even to those outside the LGBT student community.
Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, is optimistic about the campaign as he points to evidence of cross-party support as well as the presence of both religious and non-religious groups taking part: “I think one of the great things about this campaign is the way that it has brought together support from all different parts of civic Scotland, as well as political Scotland.”
One such representative of political Scotland - Marco Biagi, MSP for Edinburgh Central, explained his presence at the march:
“I’m here as one of the many MSPs from all the parties that are backing the campaign…The SNP went into the last election with the promise in the manifesto to consult on marriage equality, the first step in the process of legislation in Holyrood. That historic step has been taken; we’ve seen huge public response, 50,000 responses to it. I’m very confident that when this issue comes before the Scottish parliament that it will carry a resounding majority from across the chamber.”
His views seem to reflect the SNP government’s stance, which “tends towards the view that same sex marriage should be introduced, but believes that faith groups and their celebrants should not be obliged to solemnise same sex marriages.”
While no opposition protestors could be found on the day of the march, an opposition movement called ‘Scotland for Marriage’ is actively campaigning against what they describe as the ‘redefinition’ of marriage. They claim that the current definition of marriage is “the union of one man and one woman” and that “this definition has served Scotland well down the centuries.”
While their website states that they are not a “venture in religious unity”, and that they are made up of both religious and non-religious groups, five out of six were found to be Christian organisations.
Their website appears to prioritise the claims that heterosexual marriage is “the ideal environment for raising children”, that if marriage is redefined for same-sex couples then the legalisation allowing polygamy could follow, and that people are being “compelled” to agree with equal marriage because of “political correctness”.
One student from the University of Edinburgh, who wished to remain anonymous, explained why she does not support the equal marriage campaign:
“I would argue that marriage is the recognition of spiritual commitment to both your partner and to God. In the Bible, God recognizes marriage between a man and a woman, and not between two men or two women.”
“I am by no means suggesting that homosexual couples should not recognize their commitment to each other in front of their families, or should be forbidden from demonstrating their love but this ceremony should not, in my opinion, come under the heading of marriage.”
“Equal rights should of course be given for marriages and civil partnerships, but one cannot be recognized as the spiritual act that marriage is. With this in mind, it seems fair that men and women should be able to form a civil partnership rather than a marriage if they do not wish to make a spiritual commitment, but it is my hope that they would.”
However, the findings of the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, which interviews 1,200 to 1,500 people annually, found that over 60 per cent of people in Scotland support the right of same-sex couples to marry compared to 19 per cent who disagreed.
Results from the public consultation are expected in March 2012. Pending the results of the consultation, the Government may then decide to legislate, at which point there will be a further consultation on a draft Bill. The Scottish government estimates that a final bill would be introduced before Parliament in 2013.