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Gay Marriage In Scotland Plans Expected To Be Unveiled Amid Growing Row

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Not Everyone In Scotland Wants Gay Marriage But All The Main Political Parties Do
Not Everyone In Scotland Wants Gay Marriage But All The Main Political Parties Do

While the Westminster government's plans for gay marriage appear stuck in a consultation which could delay a Bill being introduced to Parliament for months, the Scottish Government is expected to press ahead with its own gay marriage proposals either this week or early next week.

The SNP government has already conducted a consultation on gay marriage, far more speedily than the one now being mulled over at Westminster. Alex Salmond's office will issue an "operational note" in the coming days outlining the timetable to bring gay marriage into law in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is also likely to try to find a way to allow religious premises to conduct gay marriages north of the border, although supporters of the change acknowledge finding the exact wording on this will be the biggest challenge. It will likely become the defining issue in Scottish politics over the summer, with pro-gay marriage activists staging a large "renewal of vows" outside the Scottish Parliament on Monday.

The SNP government's stance on religious marriages for gays appears to be sharply in contrast to the views of the London government, which has prevaricated over the issue. Before the consultation in London took place the Home Office had signalled that any gay marriages in England could only take place in a registry office. Recently Nick Clegg said that gay couples should be able to marry in English churches, if those churches were happy to conduct the ceremonies. But his comments aren't government policy, at least not yet.

The decision in Scotland has prompted furious responses from the Catholic Church there, which at the weekend pledged to spend £100,000 in a campaign to block Alex Salmond's plans. But since all the main parties in Edinburgh are supportive of same-sex marriage it seems likely that Scotland will be the first place in the UK to introduce it.

Gay SNP MSP Joe Fitzpatrick told The Huffington Post that it would be "quite bizarre" for a ban on religious premises to be introduced in the Scottish Bill. "I'm an atheist but I have no axe to grind against religion," he told us. "But we shouldn't be telling churches what they can and can't do."

Fitzpatrick is clear that churches who don't want to hold gay marriages should be respected. "There are churches out there who do not want to put on same-sex marriages. We need to find the mecahnism to give them confidence that they won't be forced to do so, that'll be the challenge, to square that circle," he says.

The Scottish government also has the benefit of only having to put its laws through the single-chamber Scottish Parliament, where there appears to be a clear majority in favour of gay marriage. Contrast that with Westminster, where the government would face significant hurdles in getting any plans through the House of Lords.

The upper house in Westminster includes Church of England bishops as well as many peers who are socially conservative. Any Bill on gay marriage in London would likely face major delays in the Lords.

So despite the firebrand declarations from the Catholic Church in Scotland, which have been much harsher than anything offered up by anyone in the Church of England, there are good reasons to expect that Scotland will be the first place in the UK to see gay marriages.

"I would be surprised if marriage equality were brought in in Scotland but not in the rest of the UK," says Joe Fitzpatrick. "The UK's going to have to catch up," he says.

How the formal proposals for legislation are received in Scotland is likely to be watched very closely at Westminster. Last week the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone promised that there would be legislation in the Commons, although she didn't give a timetable. The consultation on gay marriage organised by Featherstone has closed, and officials and ministers are still wading through the submissions.

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