Despite UKIP’s weather warning, a rainbow appeared over Holyrood this Tuesday, as the Scottish Parliament made history by becoming the 17th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.
It was an especially exciting day for our society, having campaigned for equal marriage for some years now.
Several society members attended the Equality Network’s rally outside the Scottish Parliament, outnumbering the anti-same-sex marriage counter-demo with voices of celebration: placards, elaborate outfits, party poppers and wedding confetti were present in abundance; a mock ‘wedding’ took place; and an LGBT choir sang their hearts out. We then headed inside to observe the final debate and watch Scotland make history.
Much of the 4-and-a-half-hour debate was dominated by a raft of proposed amendments purporting to prevent “discrimination against” and “marginalisation of” religious people, who disagree with the law allowing equal marriage for LGBT couples.
Amendment 26, proposed by John Mason (SNP), sought to maintain the one man/one woman definition of marriage as “a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society”; Amendment 1, proposed by Richard Lyle (SNP), would have ensured that adoption and fostering agencies could not take into account prospective parents’ view on same-sex marriage; and Siobhan McMahon (Lab) proposed Amendment 3, dealing with alleged discrimination against organisations who oppose same-sex marriage when applying for the use of local authority services.
These many amendments were all offered as a so-called ‘olive branch’ to religious organisations who did not want to recognise the change in the law, but Patrick Harvie (Green) noted a potential ulterior motive. Amendment 30 would have meant that same-sex marriage could not come into force until a change was made to the Equality Act 2010 – a change the UK Government had already refused to make. The most obvious example of a ‘wrecking amendment’, this would have ensured that even if Scotland voted for same-sex marriage in principle, it would never happen in practice. All of these amendments failed, attracting around only 20 votes each.
Another controversial (and failed) amendment was Amendment 5, proposed again by John Mason, which called for a five-year review to assess the “impact” of the legislation. However, Patrick Harvie pointed out that this would leave many couples unsure as to the legal status of their marriage.
After considering amendments, the Chamber then moved to the Bill itself – with impassioned speeches both for and against.
Jackie Baillie (Lab) called equal marriage an “idea whose time has come”, and the figures she quoted from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey certainly suggested so: in 2002, 41% of Scots were in favour of same-sex marriage, with 40% undecided and 19% against. By 2010, those in favour had increased to 61%. One can only imagine what the figure would be today.
Mary Scanlon (Con) previously considered herself part of that 40% undecided, and had abstained on 2004 Civil Partnership vote. However, now speaking in favour of same-sex marriage, she credited her “tipping point” to the hateful and homophobic language used by those urging her to vote against.
Marco Biagi (SNP) introduced the voices of his constituents into the Debating Chamber, reading the letters of some of the 429 people who wrote to the MSP, sharing different personal stories but all calling for Scotland to recognise the equality of LGBT people in Scottish society.
Not all MSPs shared the celebratory mood in the Chamber. Richard Lyle regretted that he was “out of step” with the majority, and went on to state that “It is my conviction that marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman.” However, Lyle did at least assure the chamber that he has a gay friend, in the form of Jim Eadie MSP.
After several hours, multiple amendments, and many impassioned speeches, Alex Neil (SNP) formally proposed the Bill to the Chamber for a vote. As even those against the Bill recognised, there was no doubt that it would pass – but there was extra cause for celebration when an overwhelming 81% of MSPs (105) voted in favour of equal marriage in Scotland. 18 voted against, and there were no abstentions.
The first same-sex marriages could take place later this year. Though the 18 nay-sayers had worried of “unintended consequences”, Patrick Harvie gave assurance that the only consequences Scotland can expect this year, and in years of marriage equality to come will be: “some couples who love each other will get married, some confetti will be thrown, some cake will be eaten, someone’s auntie will find an excuse to buy a new hat and, with a little bit of luck, some people might live happily ever after.”
We now have marriage equality in Scotland, but must not forget that the fight for LGBT+ rights across the world continues. Next on our agenda is an Valentine’s Day “Equal Love” party in Teviot Underground, to raise money for AIUK’s LGBT+ campaign. Check out our Facebook event here!
We are also holding a panel discussion on LGBT+ rights in Russia, with academics, activists and politicians taking part a roundtable discussion/Q&A. Check out the Facebook event for this below!