Today, the Scottish Government launched its anticipated consultation on The Registration of Civil Partnerships | Same Sex Marriage. This is accompanied by a fifty page paper which identifies two primary issues Scottish Ministers are interested in, soliciting...
"... views on the possibility of allowing religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and the possible introduction of same sex marriage."
Interestingly, as Nicola Sturgeon makes plain in the ministerial foreword - and interesting but not unexpected too that she is writing it, rather than Kenny MacAskill or his Justice deputy, Roseanna Cunningham - quite apart from the reticence some folk purported to identify over the summer, the Scottish Government has declared itself basically in favour of same-sex marriage. Sturgeon writes:
"The Scottish Government is choosing to make its initial views clear at the outset of this consultation. We tend towards the view that religious ceremonies for civil partnerships should no longer be prohibited and that same sex marriage should be introduced so that same sex couples have the option of getting married if that is how they wish to demonstrate their commitment to each other. We also believe that no religious body or its celebrants should be required to carry out same sex marriages or civil partnership ceremonies."
Peppery stuff, even if Scottish Ministers continue to insist that "although we have expressed our initial view, we give an assurance that all views will be listened to. No final views have been reached and no decisions have been taken." The detailed consultation questions and some helpful background detail is given in the subsequent sections of the document. Since it is the aspect of the consultation which has recently dominated discussions of this in the media, it is worth quoting Ministers' (albeit very brief) account of why they are minded to support a move towards same-sex marriage in Scotland:
3.11 The Government’s initial view is that marriage should be open to both same sex couples and opposite sex couples. This view is grounded in our commitment to equality, and our support for stable and committed relationships. Same sex couples, like opposite sex couples, can and do establish loving relationships which they wish to formalise in a manner recognised by the state, and in some cases by the religious body to which they belong.
3.12 While civil partnerships are available for same sex couples, and provide similar responsibilities, rights and status to marriage, the two are not identical. It is clear that some same sex couples would prefer marriage to a civil partnership, as the appropriate way to declare and formalise their commitment to each other.
This prompts several more detailed questions. Should same-sex marriage only be civil, or should religious same-sex marriages by willing celebrants have the force of law? Should civil partnerships be retained at all, if marriage is equalised? Alternatively, should they be capable of civil and religious form, as preferences of those involved and their pieties dictate? I note, by the by, that the document doesn't discuss reform of civil partnerships, to remove the requirement that they can only involve two folk of the same sex. As is becoming typical and typically knotty in these devolved days, any marriage reforms will have both devolved and reserved implications. These are touched on in paragraph 3.22 of the consultation...
"... many of the responsibilities and rights that flow from marriage are reserved (eg social security benefits, taxation and immigration are reserved matters). In addition, equal opportunities and the subject matter of the Equality Act 2010 are generally reserved. Therefore, if Scotland were to move to allow same sex marriage, the Scottish Government would discuss the practical implications with the UK Government."
An encouraging start. Read the full consultation document, and range of proposals mooted and questions posed, here. For those of you keen to submit your views to Ministers on this topic, the closing date for responses is the 9th of December.