This week a majority of our representatives in our national parliament will vote to approve equal marriage
Published in Herald on Sunday on 2nd February 2014
Adding Scotland to the ranks of civilised countries and states worldwide that have responded to demands from citizens to end discrimination. In a few short years we’ve come a long way, and I think Scotland can be proud of how we have conducted this debate and grown as a society because of it. In a few years I think we’ll look back and wonder what on earth all the fuss was about.
But fuss there has been, and I’ve been watching the discussion closely, intervening now and again. All six of Scotland’s MEPs are in favour of equal marriage, and while as a gay man I have perhaps a more personal interest, I have always promoted equality because it is just the fairer and more equitable thing to do.
I think you can judge a state by how it treats its minorities, because we’re all in a minority one way or another. I lodged parliamentary questions years ago asking the European authorities to rule on the odious Act of Settlement enshrining anti-Catholic discrimination at the heart of the UK constitution. The EU refused to intervene, sadly.
I also have a broader perspective as an MEP and member of the Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup. We are seeing across the European continent and wider that progress cannot be taken for granted. The example Scotland will set on Tuesday is of vital importance internationally.
We’ll join our European neighbours England and Wales, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Portugal and Spain. Further afield, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and some US and Mexican states have also taken the step, but of the 193 members of the United Nations, that’s it.
Being gay remains illegal in umpteen countries. We’re seeing across much of Africa odious legislation being proposed to victimise fellow citizens, as if Africa did not have more pressing problems. In Russia we are watching as a state-backed campaign of vilification is being rolled out, with the Sochi Olympics shaping up to be a pretty ugly stain on the world’s conscience and the Qatar World Cup no better.
And a number of EU states are making painfully slow progress towards an equal society, with too many bumps in the road for comfort. We cannot be complacent in Scotland because we’re not there yet, but we are further advanced towards a respectful society than many. I’m proud to be a trustee of LGBT Youth Scotland, and through my work with them am convinced we have much to teach our European colleagues, so they can learn from our mistakes as well as victories.
I’m proud of the debate in Scotland, in the main. A number of organisations have demonstrated their potency, notably the Scottish Youth Parliament, which, with considerable panache, brought this on to the national agenda having balloted its members. Likewise, the Equality Network and LGBT Youth Scotland deserve honourable mention for keeping the debate calm, rational and based on fact. The Government responded, maintaining an open dialogue with all groups, especially those opposed. Scotland’s parties responded too, with, I believe, pragmatic free votes as a pressure valve to accommodate individual belief. How we treat minorities is important, remember, however hurtful their views may be.
And as that dialogue went on, so much of the opposition was objectively found wanting, with questionable motives and even more questionable campaigns. The rhetoric from some groups has bordered on unhinged. It was dealt with courteously, but their campaigns puffed up over-inflated bubbles that the democratic process has left thoroughly deflated and lifeless.
And how we have conducted the debate is important, because the bill passing is not the end of the story. We saw in California how the legal yet cruel Proposition 8 referendum overturned an Equal Marriage Act that had, evidently, not taken the public opinion with it. I have friends and family in California, and saw myself how hurtful it was to see the legality of relationships thrown into doubt, a process that is still rumbling across various courts in the US. I had my doubts about the rather rushed way in which Westminster handled the process, and hope the settlement in England and Wales will be durable, but fear we have not heard the last of the resentment the House of Commons debate stirred up.
But in Scotland, we’vehad our own discussion, and found Scottish solutions for Scotland. We can afford to be big-hearted. We’ve won. And Scotland is a better place for it. Well done everyone.