Chris Creegan

Comment | Ideas | Opinion

Equal Marriage: A big step closer to One Scotland

by Chris on 16th December 2014

Equal marriage

Scotland awoke to historic change this morning. Equal Marriage is legal. It’s splashed across the headlines. From today couples already in Civil Partnerships will be able to convert them to marriages and from 31st December those not already in Civil Partnerships will be able to marry.

These changes received broad support from across the political spectrum when the issue was debated in the Scottish Parliament in February including that of all the party leaders. And as Scottish Social Attitudes data released today shows, this political support is matched by ever greater support amongst the Scottish public.

The data tells an increasingly familiar story. Public attitudes about homosexuality in Scotland are changing and the change shows no sign of abating. In a little over a decade public support for same sex marriage has risen from just one in four people to just shy of one in seven.

Much credit is due to the tireless work of the Equality Network which started its equal marriage campaign in 2008 and to campaigners in Stonewall Scotland and other LGBTI organisations across the country. It is a mark of the contribution of the Equality Network that its equal marriage guide published today has a foreword by the First Minster, Nicola Sturgeon.

So today I’m reminded of my very first blog post on this site back in the summer of 2012 which told a tale of two countries, of the tension between the new burgeoning tolerance in Scotland and the homophobia still at large, particularly in the hierarchy of the Catholic church. It was a story of gathering change and resistance to it, a battle between progress and tradition or at any rate a particular version of tradition.

In fact the data released today reveals that at the time that blog was written, that momentum was increasing at a pace not seen before in Scotland. Few would have predicted then quite how the fault line in the Catholic Church’s resistance would be exposed just a few months later. And today’s data released today exposes it even further because even though the shift in public attitudes lags behind amongst those who identify as Christian, the momentum is with greater tolerance including amongst Scottish Catholics.

For the moment at least the shift towards tolerance seems unstoppable and the Scottish Government’s ambition for One Scotland, a truly inclusive society, seems entirely realistic. There is of course, as the One Scotland website reminds us, more to be done.

Reading the data I was reminded too of something which happened much longer ago. Back in the mid 1980s we were campaigning to win over the trade union movement to support for lesbian and gay rights. Scotland was proving a hard nut to crack and on at least one occasion it was suggested to me that I didn’t understand that Scotland was different (I was based in London then).

In truth Scotland was different and the Church was not insignificant to that difference. But other parts of the UK were different too. And our argument then, as now, was that those differences were no justification for intolerance. Given those challenges however, it is quite remarkable to reflect just how different Scotland is now.

Today is a day for celebration, not just because the law is quite rightly changing, but because that change is happening with ever increasing backing from the Scottish people. But there is further to go. When the Equality Network launched its campaign in 2008 one of its aims alongside same sex marriage was mixed sex civil partnerships. That change, like the ability for same sex couples to marry in religious institutions, is still to come. The legislation in Scotland does permit religious bodies to opt in and a number have already done so.

The major Christian denominations are holding the line though none of them has been able to ignore the debate during the past few years. In the Scottish Episcopal Church in particular, Kelvin Holdsworh, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow has been clarion call for change. His blog post this morning was just seven words: ‘It actually is time. Congratulations everyone.’

As I argued in my last blog post, the change we’re witnessing today is significant not just because same sex couples can marry but because that we are a big step closer to everyone having the same set of choices. Inclusion is about diversity not homogeneity. Equality is about the right to be different as well as the same.

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