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Registration of Civil Partnerships, Same Sex Marriage: Consultation Analysis

This report presents the analysis of responses received in reaction to the Scottish Government consultation on same sex marriage and the religious registration of civil partnership. The consultation closed on 9th December 2011.


9 Summary conclusions

9.1 When Registration of Civil Partnership, Same Sex Marriage: A Consultation closed in early December 2011, an unprecedented 77,508 responses had been received, making it the largest consultation exercise of its type ever held in Scotland.

Who were the respondents?

9.2 The largest proportion of these responses was received on forms that had been amended (essentially through selection of some of the 20 questions for inclusion) by organisations with a particular interest in the issues about which the Scottish Government was consulting: 33,634 responses were made through these amended forms. A further 10,441 respondents completed the standard consultation form and 1,593 prepared letters were received. An additional 26,383 postcards were also submitted, along with petitions containing 5,457 signatures.

9.3 The majority of the responses - all but 375 - were submitted by individual members of the public. Of the 375 group responses, 224 were submitted by individual or regional religious institutions, mostly individual churches. As might be expected, the majority of responses (81% or 62,608 responses) were submitted by people living in Scotland, although some were received from people living in other parts of the UK and a small number were received from outwith the UK altogether.

9.4 Many respondents made their strength of feeling about both religious civil partnership and same sex marriage very clear. Few respondents had mixed or nuanced views on the subject, with the majority coming down firmly on one side of the argument or the other - in other words wanting to see both religious civil partnership and same sex marriage introduced, or wanting neither brought in.

9.5 Those that supported religious civil partnership and same sex marriage generally did so because they felt their introduction would promote equality and, in the case of same sex marriage, that everyone should be able to marry the person they love. Those that opposed both religious civil partnership and same sex marriage generally did so because they felt them to be in conflict with their religious beliefs. In the case of marriage, many were of the view that it has always been, and can only be, between one man and one woman. Respondents that opposed the introduction of religious civil partnership and same sex marriage were in the majority, with 52% of those that responded to the consultation opposing the former and 67% opposing the latter, although the levels of support and opposition vary considerably depending on the type of response.

Support for religious civil partnership

9.6 Many respondents did support the introduction of religious civil partnerships, their support often stemming from the recognition that gay and lesbian people may hold sincere religious convictions and that they should be able to have an important event such as the registering of a civil partnership solemnised through a ceremony reflecting their faith. For many others, however, the issue was less about personal faith than about a commitment to the basic principle that there should be equality in relationships, and that Scotland should move towards a situation in which there are not 'same sex' or 'opposite sex' legislative arrangements, but simply civil partnership or marriage. However, those that supported religious civil partnership also tended to respect the right for those that did not wish to be involved in these ceremonies to have the choice not to do so. Most were of the view that no pressure should be placed on these celebrants and that no-one should be forced to conduct a ceremony that was contrary to their beliefs.

Opposition to religious civil partnership

9.7 Many of those that opposed religious civil partnerships were of the view that partnership relationships should only be between one man and one woman and sometimes expressed a fundamental objection to same sex relationships. Those opposed frequently identified themselves as belonging to the Christian faith. As with many of those that supported religious civil partnerships, upholding freedom of belief and conscience was seen as critically important by most of those that opposed the proposed changes and many simply felt that the State could not, and should not, force religious bodies to agree to something they considered to be fundamentally wrong. There were particular calls for tolerance and freedom of worship to be respected. Another major concern was that although the current proposals are permissive they might quickly translate into the right to demand. A number of respondents suggested it was just a matter of time before someone made a legal challenge through the courts with the aim of requiring a religious body to register their civil partnership, and that the outcome of that challenge could not be guaranteed.

Support for same sex marriage

9.8 As with religious civil partnership, those that supported the introduction of same sex marriage often started from the fundamental principle that there should be equality regardless of sexual orientation. Some were of the view that Scotland has always been a forward-thinking country and were concerned that same sex marriage is an issue at all in 21st century Scotland, where to treat people differently based on other characteristics, such as race, would never be considered acceptable. Many respondents also commented on what they saw as the very simple human desire to marry the person they love and to make a public and binding commitment to a life partner in front of family and friends. Whilst often acknowledging that a civil partnership ceremony would be an option, many felt it to be a second-best alternative that did not come with the same social significance for individuals and society. As with religious civil partnership, those favouring the introduction of same sex marriage also tended very strongly to the view that no organisation or religious body should be required to be involved with same sex marriage ceremonies if they did not wish to do so.

Opposition to same sex marriage

9.9 Many respondents' fundamental opposition to the introduction of same sex marriage stemmed from their conviction that marriage is, and has always been, between one man and one woman with many understanding marriage to be a lifelong, monogamous, opposite sex relationship designed for procreation and instituted by God. Many of those that were opposed to same sex marriage made an explicit connection between their stance on this issue and their faith. The issue of definition was of critical importance to many respondents and led many to suggest that the very term same sex marriage was, in their view, an oxymoron and that no government had the right, or indeed could, redefine something that is universally understood within Scotland and beyond. Some suggested that to do so would be tantamount to an attack on human rights and there was also a strong sense from some respondents that they felt under attack for trying to live within, and remain true to, their beliefs. These concerns led some to stress that separation of the religious bodies and the State is important and that maintaining this separation means that religious bodies must remain free to choose which ceremonies they conduct.

Overall

9.10 As noted earlier, the majority of the individuals and groups that responded to the consultation were very firmly on one side of the debate or the other - few, if any, respondents had mixed views and the considerable majority either supported both propositions or strongly opposed both. Nevertheless, some respondents did try to see the alternative point of view and sought areas where compromise might be possible.

9.11 It was when considering whether any legislation should allow rather than require religious bodies to be involved that consensus did emerge and there were very few respondents who considered that religious bodies or celebrants should be required to undertake ceremonies which they were not comfortable with. Although approaching the basic proposals from very different starting points, many respondents were united in their insistence that Scotland must remain a country in which freedom of religious conscience is treated with the utmost respect.

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