Scottish government launches gay marriage consultation
A consultation on the issue of same-sex marriages and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships has been launched by Scottish ministers.
The Scottish government said its initial view was that same-sex marriage should be introduced.
However, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said faith groups who did not want to "solemnise" gay marriages should not be made to do so.
Interested groups can make their views known over the next 14 weeks.
Ms Sturgeon said a recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that more than 60% of people in Scotland felt that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, compared to 19% who disagreed.
She added: "In publishing the consultation today, we are setting out our initial view. We tend towards the view that same-sex marriage should be introduced.
"However, we are aware that for religious reasons, some faith groups and celebrants may not want to solemnise same-sex marriages, and that is why we are making it clear that they should not be obliged to do so."
Currently, same sex couples can obtain legal recognition of their relationship through entering into civil partnerships but the ceremonies may not take place in religious premises and can only be registered by civil registrars.
However, there is nothing to stop a same sex couple receiving a religious blessing for their union.
Earlier this year the issue of gay marriage sparked a row within the SNP after nationalist MSP John Mason tabled a parliamentary motion stating that no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriage.
Some of his party colleagues condemned his actions, claiming the motion encouraged discrimination.
The Scottish government said it would meet interested groups and organisations to discuss the issues surrounding same sex marriage during the consultation period.
Following the consultation, if a decision is taken to change the law, a bill could be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in 2013.
Ms Sturgeon added: "Although the government has set out its initial view, we give an absolute assurance that all views will be listened to. No final views have been reached and no decisions have been taken."
Responding to the launch of the consultation, Mike Judge from the Christian Institute said: "All the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples through civil partnership registrations.
"This is not about rights, this is about redefining marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists."
Stonewall Scotland, which campaigns for equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, welcomed the decision to consult on same-sex marriage.
Director Alan Wardle said: "Along with a growing majority of Scots, we believe gay, lesbian and bisexual couples should have equal legal access to civil marriage, with no mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it.
"We also seek to retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples recognising their special and unique status."
Opposition parties also welcomed the consultation.
Scottish Green party leader Patrick Harvie MSP said: "The perception of same-sex relationships as somehow wrong or second class is destined for the dustbin of history.
"There are practical issues about how to get the details of legislation right, and this consultation will resolve those matters. But the principle must be clear."
Labour's Health and Wellbeing spokesperson Jackie Baillie MSP said: "We believe that the time is now right to consult on options to provide genuine equality for same-sex couples and their families, by addressing the different status of civil partnership and marriage."
"We believe too that religious organisations - that want to - should be given the freedom to hold civil partnerships in their buildings for the first time."
She added: "I hope that the consultation will help dispel the myth that religious organisations will be forced to do anything against their will and put an end to the scaremongering we have seen from some members of the SNP."