Relationships sour over Scotland's gay marriage plan

Mon, Oct 22, 2012, 01:00

THE ANGER towards Scottish first minister Alex Salmond emanated from the serried rows of mostly middle-aged people gathered in the Salutation Hotel on South Street in Perth.

Such feelings are hardly unknown to politicians, but these people were Scottish National Party members, left furious by Salmond’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage in Scotland.

“Stand against this cultural wind,” thundered the party’s former chairman, Gordon Wilson, who is calling for a referendum on the issue – just like the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Under the proposal, homosexual couples would be allowed to marry, rather than just being able to sign a civil partnership, but churches would not be forced to hold ceremonies to sanctify the relationship.

However, Scottish QC Aidan O’Neill has produced legal advice for the Scotland for Marriage campaign declaring that such legal protections for the churches cannot be put into law.

Once same-sex marriage is legalised, “the full panoply of non-discrimination laws would apply to prevent any discrimination among the married” of all types, O’Neill said.

For Wilson, who was succeeded by Salmond, supporters of gay marriage are guilty of attempting to impose a form of fascism – a description that, predictably, has caused fury.

“You cannot have free speech without conscience or conscience without free speech and that too is at risk,” he said. “We are in danger – take one freedom away, it’s easier to take another one.”

Wilson points to the example of Adrian Smith in Manchester, a practising Christian who was demoted and docked 40 per cent of his pay because he posted a message on Facebook saying that gay marriage was “an equality too far”.

Two of his colleagues at Trafford Housing Trust questioned his post, leading him to reply that he did not understand why “people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church.

“The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”

Smith’s employer subsequently took disciplinary action, saying he had broken its code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers.

On Friday, Smith went to court to challenge the decision, where his lawyer said people have a right to private religious and political views. A judgment is expected in a fortnight.

The Smith case, John Deighton of Scotland for Marriage told the Perth audience, was a portent of the future, where teachers will be sacked if they do not comply with “a new moral view”.

“It takes courage to say that some things are wrong,” he added.

Cardinal O’Brien, who said in July that “concern for those who demand equality cannot allow us to consign to history our understanding of the basic goods of human society”, has been pilloried by liberals.

The cardinal, said Deighton, had been nominated by gay rights organisation Stonewall for a “Bigot of the Year” award for his remarks, “because he wants to uphold what has always been upheld”.

Legislation has yet to come before the Holyrood parliament, though a public consultation provoked tens of thousands of responses – most of them strongly against same-sex marriage.

The issue cannot be concluded in Scotland alone, since it requires an amendment to the UK’s Equality Act to guarantee protection for churches – an amendment that could be hard to secure.

Not all at the Salutation Hotel agreed, however, that same-sex marriage was wrong. Douglas Campbell, a party member from Edinburgh, said the churches had been associated with persecution of gay people.

“I grew up as a gay man in fear. In fear that I would be sacked, in fear that I would be demoted or not be promoted,” he said.

For now, Scotland for Marriage will continue its campaign, with the implicit warning to the Scottish National Party that support for its much-cherished independence referendum will be affected if it does not back down.