15 January 2012

Glasgow MSPs on same-sex marriage Vol II.

Further to my post of early January, cataloguing the views of Ruth Davidson, Patrick Harvie and Anne McTaggart the Labour Party on same sex marriage, I have since received a couple of additional responses from Glaswegian MSPs. Still nowt from Nicola Sturgeon, Hanzala Malik (Labour) or Bob Doris (SNP).  First up, Labour's Drew Smith (one of the tender little fellows, accidentally elected after Labour's unforeseen Glasgow-gubbing in May). In stark contrast with the chary huffing and puffing of the "suggested response" drafted by Jackie Baillie for Labour MSPs unable to compose their own opinions, never mind their own correspondence, Drew's reply has the virtue of frankness:

Drew Smith

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding same-sex marriage in Scotland.

I am proud of the Labour Party’s strong record on LGBT equality issues. In our 2011 election manifesto, Scottish Labour pledged to consult on equalising marriage rights for all, with a view to introducing a bill on marriage equality. I therefore welcomed the initiative of the Scottish Government in consulting on the issue towards the end of last year.

I added my name in support of the amendment in the name of Patrick Harvie MSP to the motion on this subject which was lodged by John Mason MSP, and I have copied both below for your information. You will be aware that there has been some fear amongst religious groups that equalising marriage rights would impact upon their religious freedoms and I would therefore support the rights of faith bodies to either allow or disallow religious marriage ceremonies to take place in accordance with their own beliefs.

There are some other elements of change which also need to be considered such as how we achieve and ensure equality for transgender people and a further argument has been made that civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexual couple, which I am also sympathetic to. Now that consultation has ended, the position that I take will be informed by the views which have been expressed.

In summary, I do support marriage equality and I would like to see the SNP government bring forward measures to obtain it speedily.  Thanks once again for taking the time to raise this important issue with me.

Kind regards,

Drew Smith MSP

After the delaying intervention of digital gremlins making mischief in the Scottish Parliament's web vaults, the SNP's Humza Yousaf sent me the following rather circumspect, rather less direct, epistle...

Humza Yousaf
Thank you for your email concerning the Scottish Government’s consultation “The Registration of Civil Partnerships: Same Sex Marriage”

I appreciate the range of views on this important matter and it is clear that you are passionate about this issue. It is important at this point to stress that the now the consultation has closed the Government will take a view on how to proceed and a further consultation will ensue.

As an elected member I am keen to hear as wide a range of views as possible from those I represent. As a result I have met with various faith groups and equality groups such as Stonewall Scotland.

Ministers have said they tend towards the view that same sex marriage should be introduced with the recognition that for religious reasons some faith groups may not want to solemnise same sex marriages, and should not be obliged to do so. I think those safeguards are important for faith organisation be they Churches, Synagogues or Mosques. However, I am also a passionate believer in religious freedom, which of course cuts both ways. Just as those faith groups who do not want to conduct same sex marriages should have the freedom not to do so, I do not believe that should be at the expense of those who wish to conduct such ceremonies

Once again thank you for getting in touch.

Humza Yousaf MSP
MSP for Glasgow


  1. LPW,

    Have you seen this reported development in England? (I regret that I have to link to the Daily Mail).

    In my opinion this has significant potential to affect same sex marriage in Scotland.

    One of the things that religious groups say that are concerned about is that, notwithstanding the legislative intent, if the legislation goes ahead, all churches will eventually be forced to offer same sex marriages on the grounds that not to do so would be unfair discrimination. If Jeffery John is successful is in his claim, that would seem a much more likely outcome. Equally if he fails then the fears of the religious authorities may be, to some extent, alleviated.

    What's your thoughts? In your opinion, will this affect the debate? Should it?

  2. I do find it slightly patronising when today's politicians say ' it is clear you are passionate about this issue'.

    In the past couple of years I've seen this in politicians' correspondence many times.

    Did you say you were passionate or do they assume because you made an enquiry that you're passionate?

    Would they bother responding if they didn't think the enquirer was passionate?

  3. John: "One of the things that religious groups say that are concerned about is that, notwithstanding the legislative intent, if the legislation goes ahead, all churches will eventually be forced to offer same sex marriages on the grounds that not to do so would be unfair discrimination."

    They're making this up. It's one of those scaremongering stories that homophobic religious groups tell when they're trying to produce some kind of justification for their campaign to stop same-sex couples from getting married.

    "If Jeffery John is successful is in his claim, that would seem a much more likely outcome."

    Assuming that the story in the Daily Mail is true and accurate, this is about a consistent pattern of a gay man in the Church of England, who is living by their rules, but who is consistently being blocked from ordination as bishop because he's gay. That is, it's about employment discrimination.

    The Church of England have already said they have in principle no policy of discriminating against lesbian and gay clergy so long as they lead celibate lives. One may argue whether that in itself is fair - but that's the rule they've set for their own clergy. Jeffrey John has kept it. The Church of England are guilty of discrimination. Whether he wins or not will depend if he can prove that CoE internal committees have kept him out of bishoprics simply because he's gay.

    It will have nothing whatsoever to do with the broader principle that any church or minister should be able to refuse to marry a couple because of their conscience - but that any church or minister should be allowed to marry a couple as a matter of conscience.

  4. I don't really see what is unclear about Humza Yousaf's reply but maybe that's just me.

    You are not going to get a personal opinion from Nicola Sturgeon, are you? She is the minister in charge, she can't have a personal opinion in case people accuse her of bias. Especially a personal opinion that is to be published on a blog.

  5. Indy
    what's unclear is whether Yousuf supports the policy or not.

  6. Braveheart the legislation on same sex marriage has not been published yet. How can he say whether he will support it?

    Lesson number one for any politician surely? Don't commit yourself to something until you know what you are committing yourself to.

  7. Indy

    The policy is to support same sex marriages. He's being asked if he supports the policy becoming law.

    He's hedging his bets. He doesn't want to oppose his party's policy, but he is also nervous of the religious vote.

    So he's not being clear. He is in fact being mealy mouthed.

  8. No I don't agree. He has indicated that he will support religious bodies which wish to conduct same sex marriages. That's more than the Jackie Baillie leter does, which refers to same sex marriage as being for civil cerremonies not religious ceremonies.

    I agree that he has very much fallen into the same trap as many of them in seeing the issue primarily in terms of the religious angle. For most people religion is neither here nor there when it comes to getting married because they choose to get married in a non-religious setting. But the religious angle has been the main bone of contention I suppose.

    And also I suppose if you are religous it's something you think about whereas for someone like me and possibly you, religion is not an issue.

  9. John,

    I haven't examined the new Equality Act in detail for some time, but I'll be sure to do so and likely post something on it, once there's a little more concrete activity from the Scottish Government on this issue.


    If only Humza knew me better, he wouldn't have made the mistake and have known me for the passionless cold fish I undoubtedly am!


    To my eye, Humza's reply seemed a bit indirect. As you say, the gist of his point about religious freedom clearly favours the introduction of same-sex marriage for those denominations which want it - but it does so in a curiously indirect way, inviting the reader to work back to that conclusion, rather than stating it entirely directly. I spend most of my day reading and writing things and considering the nuances of texts. Many folk don't, and I'm not sure it will be wholly clear to them, based on this text, what his position in. Hence my qualified description of it as "rather circumspect, rather less direct" than Drew Smith's. As you say, however, for obscurity on the fundamentals, Humza is as nothing to Jackie Baillie's effort.

    On Nicola: no, I don't expect a reply for the reasons you outline. I just thought I'd look a bit off if I simply eliminated her from my list of non-respondents, despite her non-response. From an answer given at a church hustings in Glasgow Southside I attended during the 2011 election, however, I am aware that Nicola supports the principle of same-sex marriage, and said so.

  10. Humza's response is fine, but as pointed out he does not make it explicitly clear what he does support.

    As to Nicola, I can get an unofficial response! But fair to assume she will support same-sex marriage with the safeguards for the religious organisations to decide for themselves.

  11. Yes I see what you mean about Humza's reply. On reading it again it does look like someone who has been round and round the arguments in his own head and come to a position he is happy with, but without really explaining why.

    But what I think is interesting is that he explicitly makes the point that protecting the rights of religious bodies who do not wish to condct same sex marriages should not be at the expense of those who do.

    That's interesting because it looks almost certain now that same sex marriages down south will be restricted to civil ceremonies. And I's guess that option would have a certain attraction to politicians here because let's face it, that would be the easy way out and would effectively silence the argument about religious bodies potentially being forced to perform same sex marriages against their wishes. I think that argument is nonsense myself but it has gained traction during the debate.

    So if we are going to read anything into it I suspect it is that the SNP side is not going to go for that easy option. Possibly only because they didn't think of it first of course!

  12. Braveheart

    If you regard Humza's response as objectionably "mealy mouthed", what the devil did you make of the response Jackie Baillie drafted for all those Labour MSPs without the wit to compose their own thoughts on the topic? The model of commitment and clarity?

  13. If you mean Anne Mctaggart...mealy mouthed.