The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 (asp 5) is an Act of the Scottish Parliament which allows same-sex couples to marry in Scotland since 16 December 2014.
The bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 26 June 2013 by Alex Neil MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing. The bill passed Stage 3 on 4 February 2014. It received Royal Assent on 12 March 2014.
The Act does not contain provisions to allow existing civil partnerships registered in Scotland to be converted into marriage, but includes provision for its later introduction into law; it will permit those already in civil partnership with one another to marry without first dissolving the mutual civil partnership.
As marriage is neither reserved nor excepted to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence to make changes to marriage law.
On 17 March 2009, the Petitions Committee unanimously agreed to question the Scottish Government on whether and when it planned to amend the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 to allow same sex marriages. They also requested that a reason be provided if an amendment could not be considered.
In March 2009, shortly before submission of the LGBT Network's petition to the Scottish Parliament, NUS Scotland established an Equal Marriage Campaign, launching a similar petition to the Scottish Parliament and calling for the amendment of legislation to allow same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnerships in Scotland, although the petition itself did not distinguish between civil and religious marriage. This campaign attracted the support of a number of MSPs and MEPs, as well as activist organisations and individuals. The petition closed on 1 September 2009, having gathered 1,317 signatures. On 8 September the Petitions Committee convened after a summer recess, and agreed to contact the Government seeking responses to specific points raised in both petitions and the discussion.
On 1 December 2009, the Petitions Committee decided to seek a meeting between a government minister and the petitioners, as well as enquire as to whether the Government might consider setting up an advisory committee of interested parties. The Government rejected the petition, as legalising same-sex marriage in Scotland only would require changes in non-devolved matters such as the areas of immigration, pensions and inheritance law all of which would have to be done at national level. The head of the government's equality unit Hilary Third said that although from an equalities point of view "equal marriage is where we want to be" it would be a "difficult situation" if same-sex marriage was legal in Scotland but not England. In 2011 Her Majesty's Government announced a consultation on the legalising of same-sex marriage in England and Wales would be held, and it began in March 2012.
From September – December 2011 the Scottish Government held a consultation on the issue. The consultation offered consideration on both removing religious prohibitions for civil partnerships and also legalising same-sex marriage within that country. In the foreword to the consultation document, Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon stated
"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."
Unlike the English and Welsh Consultation, the one for Scotland dealt with the issue of same-sex marriage in a religious context. On 10 December 2011, The Scotsman newspaper reported that some 50,000 responses had been received from within Scotland. In reality, when counting was finished, the total stood at 77,508. The Government presented the results and analysis of the consultation in July 2012. Respondents who opposed the introduction of same sex marriage were in the majority, with 67%. However, 14,869 (19%) of responses came from outside Scotland and 26,383 (34%) were submitted by a pre-printed postcard rather than via the Consultation form.
Passage through Parliament
On 25 July 2012 the Scottish Government announced it would bring forward legislation to legalise both civil and religious same-sex marriage in Scotland. The Government reiterated its intention to ensure that no religious group or individual member of the clergy would be forced to conduct such ceremonies; it also stated its intention to work with Westminster to make necessary changes to the Equality Act to ensure that this would be guaranteed.
On 27 June 2013, the Scottish Government introduced the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament. LGBT rights campaigners, celebrating outside the UK parliament on 15 July 2013 for the clearance of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Lords, declared that they would continue the campaign to extend same-sex marriage rights to both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The majority of the members of the Scottish Parliament have declared their support for same-sex marriage, including the leader of each party in Parliament: Alex Salmond (SNP; First Minister of Scotland), Johann Lamont (Labour), Ruth Davidson (Conservative), Willie Rennie (Liberal Democrats) and Patrick Harvie (Green).
The bill was fast-tracked through the Scottish Parliament with the aim of achieving Royal Assent for the legislation by March 2014. The Equal Opportunities Committee considered the bill from 5 September to 7 November, with a report published on 8 November. On 20 November, the bill passed Stage 1 with a 98 to 15 vote and 5 abstentions. Of the 98 MSPs that voted "yes" on the bill, 52 were members of the Scottish National Party, 31 were members of the Labour Party, 7 were members of the Conservative Party, 4 were members of the Liberal Democrats Party, 2 were members of the Green Party, and 2 were Independents. Of the 15 MSPs that voted "no" on the bill, 6 were members of the Scottish National Party, 8 were members of the Conservative Party, and 1 was a member of the Labour Party. Of the 5 MSPs that abstained, 2 were members of the Scottish National Party, and 3 were members of the Labour Party.
The bill returned to the Equal Opportunities Committee for Stage 2. The Committee considered the bill on 19 December 2013, rejecting several amendments proposed by opponents of the legislation. The Committee continued Stage 2 on 16 January 2014. The final Stage 3 debate and vote was held on 4 February 2014. The bill was approved with 105 MSPs in favour and 18 opposed, with no abstentions. The bill received Royal Assent on 12 March 2014 and the first same-sex marriages occurred on 16 December 2014, for partners in a civil partnership who converted into marriage.
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A leaked e-mail seen by BBC Scotland suggests the Scottish government may not introduce a bill on gay marriage until Westminster changes the law.
The correspondence between civil servants suggests SNP ministers want the UK Equalities Act to be amended.
It suggests ministers want protection for celebrants who disapprove of same-sex marriage, and freedom of speech for those who want to speak out against it.
The Scottish government said it would confirm its intentions within weeks.
The correspondence seen by the BBC said ministers were expected to introduce the policy, but not before the UK Equalities Act, which guarantees equal treatment from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, was amended first.
It said: "We may announce that we will proceed with the introduction of same-sex marriage, by means of both civil and religious ceremonies, and with the introduction of religious ceremonies to register civil partnerships.
"However we may also say, and give considerable prominence to saying, that the government recognises the need to provide appropriate protections for some in Scottish society who are against same sex marriage.
On education, our initial thinking is that we might need to issue more guidance on matters such as teachers using educational material which might be sensitiveE-mail seen by BBC Scotland
"I expect we will say that the Equality Act 2010 needs to be amended to provide full protection for individual celebrants who are opposed to same-sex ceremonies, even if their religious body has decided to opt in to carrying out such ceremonies.
"...We would not introduce a bill into the Scottish Parliament until we had reached agreement with the UK government on the types of amendment that might be needed to the Equality Act 2010.
"It is likely that our ministers would not wish to commence any Scottish Act introducing same-sex marriage until the amendment to the Equality Act is in place."
A decision on whether to bring forward a bill on same-sex marriage had been expected on Tuesday.
But a government spokesman, speaking after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon, said: "This is an important issue and it is right that cabinet takes the time to get both the principle and the detail of the decision right."
Labour branded the move as "weak", while the Scottish Youth Parliament, which has played a key role in pushing the issue up the political agenda, expressed disappointment.
The leaked e-mail suggested new guidance may be needed for teachers on the subject, which the civil servant described as "sensitive".
It said: "On education, our initial thinking is that we might need to issue more guidance on matters such as teachers using educational material which might be sensitive and on parents' rights to be consulted on lessons which might be sensitive.
"Again, there may be pressure for legislation. However, we think this might be too inflexible and could have an adverse impact on a child's right to an education."
Responding to the e-mail, a Scottish government spokesperson said: "The decision on whether or not to bring forward legislation on same sex marriage is for the Scottish government. We will confirm our intentions on the way forward by the end of this month.
"We do not comment on leaks but this is not new information - it is set out on the consultation paper published last September that if same sex marriage is introduced in Scotland we would take steps to work with Westminster to make any changes needed to the Equality Act to protect individual celebrants."
A Home Office spokesperson said: "We are working closely with the Scottish government to consider whether any specific changes to the Equality Act, or other legislation, may be required.
"We will produce conclusions on our own consultation - covering England and Wales - by the end of the year."
Scotland For Marriage, an organisation supporting the current definition of marriage said: "This leaked e-mail shows that we have been right all along about the far-reaching implications of redefining marriage, including its impact on schools.
"You can't rewrite the law on marriage without unravelling hundreds of years of law and culture."
The proposals for same-sex marriage, which would see Scotland become the first part of the UK to introduce the policy, have provoked opposition from some religious groups.
The Catholic Church and Church of Scotland strongly oppose the policy.
At the start of the week, Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, urged the Scottish government to hold a public vote on same-sex marriage.
However, that suggestion was dismissed following the cabinet meeting on Tuesday.