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.

3 Setting the analysis in context

3.1 This chapter looks at a range of factors that give context to the subsequent analysis of responses to individual questions, including who responded to the consultation, respondents' understanding of the current arrangements, and issues respondents raised in relation to the consultation process itself[15].

3.2 The only additional information gathered as part of the consultation process that can be used for analysis is the response category of the respondent (whether representing a group or responding as an individual) and the country of residence.

Who were the respondents?

3.3 Of the 77,508 responses received, only 375 (<1%) were submitted by groups and the remaining 77,133 (99%) by individuals. A breakdown of the group responses submitted by type of organisation is set out in Table 3 below and a full list of all group respondents is included as Annex E[16].

Table 3 Group responses by type of organisation

Type of organisation Number received
Religious and other belief bodies 22
Individual religious institutions or regional groups 224
Groups with religious affiliations 56
'Other' groups 42
Political groups and unions 16
Local authorities and professional bodies 5
Businesses or private practices 10
Total 375

3.4 The majority of group responses (81%) were made by bodies or organisations with a clear religious connection. A number of the main religious or other belief bodies that currently conduct religious marriages (as set out at paragraphs 1.7 and 1.8) made a submission setting out their official position. In addition, a large number of responses came from individual religious institutions or regions, principally from individual churches, but also including some presbyteries or diocese. The denominations represented included the Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches, along with the Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland and Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). A number of Mosques or Madrasas also made submissions. The Churches and Mosques making submissions came from across Scotland, ranging from Dumfries to Lerwick and from Aberdeen to Stornoway, and were based in rural, mixed and urban communities.

3.5 Responses were also received from a number of groups and organisations working in the third sector, some of which had clear religious affiliations whereas others did not. These 'Other' groups included a number of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) and equality focused campaign or support groups, as well as student unions or associations. Other types of organisation making submissions included political parties or branches, trade unions and private businesses or professional practices. There were also a small number of submissions from groups that have a 'professional interest' in the registration of civil marriages or partnerships, namely local authorities and a professional body representing Registrars.

3.6 As part of the logging of responses undertaken by the Scottish Government, a record was made of the country of residence of all respondents[17]. This information has been analysed according to whether respondents live in Scotland, another part of the United Kingdom, or elsewhere, and is displayed in Figure 2 below[18].

Figure 2 Respondents by area of residence

Figure 2 Respondents by area of residence

3.7 The majority of responses (81% or 62,608 responses) were submitted by people living in Scotland[19], although many were received from people living in other parts of the UK (18% or 13,741 responses). Only a small number of responses (1% or 1,128 responses) were received from outwith the UK altogether, with most originating from Australia, Canada or the USA[20].

Understanding of the current system and the proposals

3.8 In undertaking the analysis of all responses received, and particularly the additional comments made, a number of issues emerged which are not about the profile of respondents, but which may nevertheless have had some impact on how people responded to the consultation.

3.9 First, it was clear that there is some confusion about the current arrangements for both marriage and civil partnership. For example, some respondents thought opposite sex couples can currently enter into a civil partnership, whilst others thought that any two people could also enter into such a partnership. In the latter case, the assumption appeared to be that a civil partnership is a legal agreement relating primarily to property rights, which would, for example, be open to siblings living together and wishing to leave each other their property. Some respondents from organisations that have a role in the administration of civil partnerships and civil marriages reported that the current system, particularly in relation to civil partnership, is not well understood by the wider public.

3.10 There were also occasional misunderstandings about the specific details of the current proposals. Perhaps the most common misconception was that references to religious bodies, religious celebrants or religious premises applied to the Christian faith only, and that no other faiths would be affected by the proposals. There was also a notable tendency to use the terms civil partnership and marriage synonymously, and particularly to make reference to marriage when answering questions about civil partnership (Questions 1-9). In contrast, some respondents continued to refer to civil partnership when answering questions about same sex marriage, with a small number of respondents explicitly stating that they were doing so because they did not recognise that same sex marriage could exist and hence they were not prepared to use the term.

Issues with the consultation process

3.11 Respondents raised some issues with the consultation process itself which they felt may have affected how people responded. In particular, a number of respondents suggested that the consultation questions were too numerous, were repetitive and were confusingly worded; the use of double negatives was the subject of particular criticism. A number of respondents also commented on the absence of an option to abstain at particular questions.

3.12 Some respondents voiced their suspicions that the consultation document and questions had been deliberately designed to confuse and to elicit particular responses. In addition to concerns about the questions themselves, some people also raised some process-related issues. For example, some respondents said they had trouble accessing the consultation document or had found it difficult to locate some of the information they required within that document. A few respondents were concerned that those with no internet access or limited ICT skills may have been unable to submit a response. A number of respondents expressed the view that the types of issues outlined above could have been significant enough to affect the overall outcome of the consultation.

Preliminary observations

3.13 The remaining chapters of this report present analysis of the findings from the consultation on a question by question basis. Before beginning, however, there are some preliminary observations which, while not specific to any particular question, set much of the subsequent analysis in context.

3.14 First and foremost, strength of feeling on these issues was clear and, on occasions, this was reflected through the language used and the tone of the comments made. It was also the case that very few respondents had mixed or nuanced views on the subject, with the majority coming down very clearly on one side of the argument or the other[21].

3.15 For many of those that were opposed to the introduction of religious civil partnership and same sex marriage, the proposals were seen as part of a wider attack on faith communities more generally, and the Christian community in particular. A sense of the rapid secularisation of Scottish society and a move away from the country's traditional Christian roots was a cause of enormous concern for a number of respondents, many of whom expressed the view that the Scottish Government is listening to a small but very vocal minority, whilst ignoring the 'silent' majority.

3.16 In contrast, some of those that supported the proposals were concerned that the public statements made by some religious groups and their leaders might encourage the Scottish Government to back away from a proposal that would actually be supported by the majority of Scots. Again, there was a perception that a vocal and powerful minority might be allowed to dictate the agenda and have a disproportionate influence on policy makers.

3.17 Despite positions being polarised, however, some respondents did try to see the issue from other people's point of view, and to acknowledge the reasons why others might take a different view to their own. Some of those opposed to the introduction of same sex marriage wanted to make it clear that they were not, and objected to being perceived as, homophobic simply because they could not agree that the right to marry should be extended to same sex couples. Equally, some of those that supported the introduction of same sex marriage acknowledged that many of faith would not consider same sex marriage to be acceptable and should not be put on a position where they were forced to compromise their beliefs.

3.18 Finally, a number of respondents submitting responses on behalf of the main religious bodies commented that their own internal structures and decision-making processes did not necessarily allow them either to answer the consultation questions as posed, or provide a collective and agreed response within the timescales established for the public consultation. Some noted that their own religious body's internal decision-making is effectively still ongoing, and hence their submissions only represent their position 'at a point in time' and may be subject to change or greater clarification in the future. It was also pointed out that Churches which are members of wider Communions may wish to discuss these issues with other members of that Communion and that taking such a consultative approach inevitably takes time.

3.19 However, the importance of Churches being part of such an important debate was also raised, along with a view that some of that debate would be internal and would potentially highlight differences of opinion within churches themselves. Given all of these issues, some who responded called for the Scottish Government to take more time in consulting on, and then reaching a decision about, changes that could have such a significant impact on religious bodies.


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