Scotland politics

US governor Jerry Brown calls on politicians to lead over gay marriage

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe row over same-sex marriage rumbles on in California

The governor of a US state embroiled in a legal row over gay marriage has urged Scotland's politicians to give a lead on equality legislation.

The advice from California's Jerry Brown comes as the Scottish government prepares to release details of its consultation into same-sex marriage.

Mr Brown said it was important for politicians to lead on the issue.

First Minister Alex Salmond said he personally supported reform but he did not want opponents to "feel ignored".

In June 2008, the State of California allowed homosexual couples to get married.

However, within five months of the decision, the legislation was overturned through the Proposition 8 ruling which said: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

For nearly four years the so-called Prop 8 issue has been brought regularly before the courts and until a final decision has been made, the ban on gay marriage stands.

Democrat Mr Brown said politicians in Scotland would benefit from looking at the Californian experience.

He explained: "There was certainly opposition to same-sex marriage a decade ago, but very regularly this opposition has declined. So, I would say today maybe there is even a slight majority in favour of same-sex marriage."

Mr Brown - who last year signed a bill making California the first US state to add lessons about gays and lesbians to social studies classes in public schools - refused to defend Prop 8 when he was the state's top law officer.

He added: "Our job is not to give brilliant speeches only, but it is also to lead the people and to get them to follow and so that is a matter where, each leader in each community, has to make their own decision."

Currently the law in Scotland, as in the the rest of the UK, allows civil partnerships between couples of the same sex.

It offers the same legal treatment as marriage across a range of matters, such as inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance, child maintenance, next of kin and immigration rights, however, it is still distinct from marriage.

A man and a woman can opt for a religious or civil marriage ceremony, whereas a same-sex partnership is an exclusively civil procedure.

In both the US and in Scotland the vocal opposition to gay-marriage comes from religious organisations, such as the Roman Catholic Church.

They believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

In the Scottish Parliament, the party leaders are united in support of a change to the law.

The SNP government conducted a 14-week consultation into the issue. When it closed in mid-December, more than 60,000 responses had been sent.

On launching the consultation, the government stated that it "tends towards the view" that same-sex marriage should be introduced, but that faith groups and their celebrants should not be forced to solemnise the ceremonies.

If the government decides to legislate, there would be a further consultation on a draft Bill, and a finalised Bill could be introduced into the Scottish Parliament in 2013.

If legislation is not forthcoming, the Equality Network has indicated that it would work to secure a Member's Bill.

Mr Salmond, who met Mr Brown in Sacramento during a recent business trip to California, said the debate around the issue needed to be handled well.

He explained: "You can uphold great points of principle and wreck it all by having an inadequate process.

"I am determined in Scotland to have a debate which is worthy of the seriousness of the subject. But also people can have confidence in that their voice is entitled to be heard and has been heard as the process unfolds."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites