19/08/2012 15:40 BST | Updated 31/01/2013 20:38 GMT

Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien And Alex Salmond Discuss Gay Marriage 'Experiment'

The leader of Scotland's Catholics who described gay marriage as a "dangerous experiment" and First Minister Alex Salmond have had an "amicable discussion" on the controversial issue.

Salmond's conversation with Cardinal Keith O'Brien, on first name terms, was a step towards healing the rift on same-sex marriage, which the Scottish government plans to legalise by early 2015.

The Holyrood administration insists that protections will be included in the new law to ensure churches, and individuals within them, do not have to conduct same-sex marriages if they do not agree with them."

The Catholic Church has described the move as a "dangerous social experiment on a massive scale".

During their phone conversation yesterday Cardinal O'Brien and the First Minister discussed a variety of issues including same-sex marriage, their representatives said.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "The First Minister spoke at some length with the Cardinal yesterday morning, and had an entirely amicable conversation on first name terms.

"It is also the right and proper way forward that officials from the Church and government are going to meet in order to discuss the very important matters of protecting religious freedom and freedom of expression, which we are absolutely committed to doing.

"It is inevitable that government ministers will not always agree with church leaders - this is an honest disagreement about an important policy issue, and we have the utmost respect for the different views expressed in the debate."

scottish gay marriage

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He added: "While this is an honest disagreement over policy, on a personal level relations between the First Minister and the Cardinal are extremely good, as they are with Scotland's other faith leaders - Mr Salmond holds the Cardinal in the highest regard and will always do so.

"As Saturday morning's conversation demonstrates, it is simply not the case that the First Minister and the Cardinal do not continue to communicate directly and speak on first name terms."

Nearly two-thirds of all people in Scotland who responded to a consultation on the issue of same-sex marriage said they are against the change and many religious groups, including the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, are bitterly opposed to it.

Ms Sturgeon said the result of the consultation was just one of the factors the Government considered when reaching its decision.

Ministers also took into account the support for gay marriage from the leaders of all the other main political parties in Scotland.

The cardinal's spokesman, Peter Kearney, said the Catholic Church is keen to maintain a dialogue with the Scottish Government.

He told BBC Scotland: "Cardinal O'Brien is really keen that the perspective and the position of the Catholic church is conveyed to the Scottish government, but he isn't convinced that he necessarily has to do that in person.

"Also the situation we find ourselves in is one where we want to maintain a dialogue, and the cardinal wants to maintain a dialogue with the government, but that can be difficult when you feel all the things you have to say, to date at least, have been completely ignored."

While the UK Government has also carried out a consultation on same-sex marriage, it has yet to publish the result.