MSPs back general principles of same-sex marriage bill

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Health Secretary Alex Neil strongly urged MSPs to back the general principles of the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill which by allowing same-sex marriage would "further promote equality and diversity" and create a "much more civilised society".

MSPs backed the general principles of the bill at decision time, with 98 MSPs voting in favour of them, 15 against and with 5 abstentions.

Mr Neil insisted the proposed legislation would "balance the rights of everybody" during the first part of the debate on 20 November 2013.

Under the bill, religious bodies would opt-in to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In addition, protection would also be offered to individual celebrants who felt it would go against their faith to carry out gay weddings.

Same-sex couples in Scotland currently have the option to enter into civil partnerships, and the Holyrood government has insisted no part of the religious community would be forced to hold same-sex weddings in churches.

Mr Neil insisted that the legislation put forward "makes some sensible improvements to marriage and civil partnership law".

He said it "introduces same-sex marriage, which will further promote equality and diversity in our society".

But he insisted that it did this "while respecting the views of those who do not want to take part".

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said the bill "is about equality, it's about fairness, it's about social justice" and "about how we see ourselves as a nation and how others see us".

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson gave a personal and passionate speech backing the bill.

Ms Davidson, who is a lesbian, said she wanted the same right all the other party leaders had, to marry.

She said "I want that right to extend, not just to me, but also to the thousands of people across Scotland who are told that the law says no, they can't marry the love of their life.

"And unless we change this law, they will never be allowed."

Young gay people are made to face guilt and shame, Ms Davidson told MSPs.

"At the moment we tell them you're good enough to serve in our armed forces; you're good enough to care in our hospitals; you're good enough to teach in our schools, but you're not good enough to marry the person you love and who loves you in return."

She said: "We can help them to walk taller in the playground tomorrow, to face their accuser down, knowing that the parliament of their country has stood up for them and said they are every bit as good as every one of their classmates."

Labour MSP Elaine Smith said she had been told she should be "burnt at the stake as a witch" for opposing this bill and said 67% of people in Scotland were against the proposals.

Ms Smith said the bill would have a "detrimental impact on our fragile society" and quoted Karl Max saying "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".

She said: "Since indicating that I did not intend to support the redefinition of marriage, my religion has been disparaged, I have been branded homophobic and bigoted, I have been likened to the Ku Klux Klan, and it was suggested that I be burnt at the stake as a witch."

Ms Smith questioned the strength of safeguards in the bill for freedom of speech and religion.

SNP member John Mason said he would also vote against the Bill.

He said Parliament was "not reflecting public opinion on this issue".

The second part of the debate can be viewed below:

Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill debate 2

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