Lib Dem attack on Catholic church over gay rights

Willie Rennie Mr Rennie said his party should stand up for its beliefs

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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has attacked senior figures in the Catholic church for attempting to "control" views on gay marriage.

Mr Rennie criticised threats by church leaders to invoke a block vote against proposals to allow same-sex couples to marry in a religious ceremony.

Willie Rennie was speaking to the Scottish Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Dunfermline.

He became leader after its poor showing in Scottish parliament elections.

Mr Rennie said: "I have the utmost respect for the work of the Catholic church in so many areas.

"But to threaten to invoke some sort of block vote is an affront to a liberal democracy and one that we must challenge.

"Many individual Catholics have told me they will not be following their leaders against the issue of equality for same sex marriage."

Government consultation

Last month, the Bishop of Paisley, Philip Tartaglia, firmly rejected the notion of allowing homosexuals to marry.

In a response to the government's consultation on the issue, Bishop Tartaglia said: "A government which favours and allows for same-sex marriage does wrong.

"It fails in its duty to society. It undermines the common good. It commits an act of cultural vandalism.

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Reports of the demise of the Liberal Democrats as a strong force in Scottish politics have been greatly exaggerated”

End Quote Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat leader

"Such a government does not deserve the trust which the nation, and including many in the Catholic community, has shown in it."

But Mr Rennie said political leaders ought not to bow to such pressure.

He added: "Challenging an organisation with 800,000 followers may seem difficult but we are prepared to be awkward to stand up for what we believe to be right."

The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader also defended the United Kingdom, accusing the SNP government of wanting to "put up a barrier" to the rest of the UK.

His speech made the case for more powers to be devolved to Scotland under home rule.

Mr Rennie announced last month that he wants to establish a commission to look at the distribution of powers among London, Edinburgh and local councils.

The elections for Holyrood saw the Liberal Democrat group reduced from 16 MSPs to just five.

But Mr Rennie said last week: "Reports of the demise of the Liberal Democrats as a strong force in Scottish politics have been greatly exaggerated."

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