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.

6 Views on the proposed introduction of same sex marriage

6.1 Questions 10 to 19 of the consultation asked for views on the possible introduction of same sex marriage in Scotland. This chapter covers the first of these questions (Question 10). The next chapter (Chapter 7) covers the remaining questions on same sex marriage.

Question 10

Do you agree that the law in Scotland should be changed to allow same sex marriage?

6.2 As the first and most fundamental question about same sex marriage, Question 10 was included within all the amended forms, prepared letters and postcards received, and hence received the largest number of responses across all the consultation questions. The number of comments received was also high, with many respondents making their most substantive, or in some cases only, comment at this question. Many comments made at Question 10 covered issues that could also have been applicable at some of the subsequent questions, but which tended to form part of a single, cohesive statement when made at Question 10. The analysis of comments made reflects the approach taken by respondents, and hence there will be some repetition in the analysis presented later in the report.

6.3 Tables 13 and 14 below set out the overall balance of opinion on the introduction of same sex marriage. Given the particular importance of this question, the results are also presented according to the area of residence of respondent and then by the type of response received.

Table 13 Question 10 by area of residence of respondents

All Respondents Scotland Rest of the UK Rest of the World
N % N % N % N %
Yes 24,904 32% 22,223 36% 1,913 14% 749 67%
No 51,802 67% 39,724 64% 11,699 86% 368 33%
Don't Know 161 <1% 110 <1% 48 <1% 2 <1%
Total 76,867 100% 62,057 100% 13,660 100% 1,119 100%

Potential maximum respondents = 77,508

Note: percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding
Note: Figures for Scotland, Rest of the UK and Rest of the World do not sum to All Respondents because country of residence could not be identified for a small number of respondents.

Table 14 Question 10 by type of response

Forms Prepared letters Postcards Petitions
N % N % N % N %
Yes 20,618 47% 1,593 100% 2,653 10% 40 1%
No 22,655 52% - - 23,730 90% 5,417 99%
Don't Know 161 <1% - - - - - -
Total 43,434 100% 1,593 100% 26,383 100% 5,457 100%

Potential maximum respondents = 77,508

Note: percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding

6.4 Across all respondents, a clear majority opposed changing the law to allow same sex marriage. However, there were differences in the balance of opinion when respondents' country of residence was taken into account. The route through which a response was submitted was also a factor. Key points to note are:

  • Although the majority of respondents living in Scotland were against the proposals, the proportion opposed was lower than for all respondents. A very high proportion of respondents living in other parts of the UK did not support the introduction of same sex marriage in Scotland, whilst the majority of respondents from outwith the UK altogether were in favour;
  • A very substantial majority of those that submitted a postcard or signed a petition were in opposition; and
  • Those that responded through a form were evenly split[26].

6.5 As noted earlier, many respondents made additional comments at Question 10, and many of these comments were substantial. In essence, however, most comments fell within one of two general positions. Many of those opposed to the introduction of same sex marriage made the same point: that marriage has always been, and can only be, between one man and one woman. Those that supported the introduction of same sex marriage generally expressed their support for the fundamental principle of equality regardless of sexual orientation, or simply that everyone should be able to marry the person they love.

Reasons for opposing same sex marriage

6.6 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. Many respondents' understanding of marriage was as a lifelong, monogamous, opposite sex relationship designed for procreation and instituted by God. Some of those that were opposed to same sex marriage and commented at Question 10 made an explicit connection between their stance on this issue and their faith[27].

6.7 Respondents that clearly identified themselves as belonging to the Christian faith frequently stated that they had no choice but to conform to the authority of the written word of God and Biblical teachings. Some also included Biblical references in support of their arguments and to explain that they believe that same sex relationships are not part of the ideal will of God. Whilst some made their own strong disapproval of same sex relationships very apparent, others put forward their view that God loves everyone and that all are welcome within their religious group. This latter sentiment was expressed not only by individual respondents of faith but also in a number of the responses received on behalf of the main religious bodies. Nevertheless, for some respondents opposed to the introduction of same sex marriage, their personal belief system meant they could not support the proposals.

6.8 The issue of definition was of critical importance to many respondents and led some to suggest that the very term same sex marriage was, in their view, an oxymoron and critically 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. Frequent references were made to Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), namely that "Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right."[28] Some of those opposed to the introduction of same sex marriage interpreted Article 12 as meaning that a man and a woman have a right to marry each other, in other words that the ECHR implies that anything other than opposite sex marriage would be in breach of this right. It is of note, however, that some of those that supported same sex marriage interpreted the Article differently: to mean that all men and all women have the right to marry, but that in their view the Article does not prescribe to whom.

6.9 For many, the focus of comments was not so much on human rights more generally, but rather on freedoms of belief and conscience specifically, and it was apparent that some would see the introduction of same sex marriage as amounting to a fundamental attack on those freedoms. It appeared that for some, this attack would come simply from same sex marriage being legalised in Scotland, irrespective of whether they or their Church were involved in such ceremonies. For others, their concerns were more specifically linked to the possibility of their Church being forced to undertake such ceremonies.

6.10 A small number of respondents spoke of the personal impact the proposed changes would have, for example, in forcing them to resign from positions within their Church or even leave their denomination if it agreed to undertake same sex marriage ceremonies. Some of those that currently undertake marriage ceremonies (including one of the main religious bodies that is currently prescribed by the regulations to undertake marriage) indicated that they would not wish to be associated with any new definition of marriage and hence would remove themselves from the list of registered celebrants. It was also suggested that it is doubtful whether any amended definition of marriage would be recognised by many other established religious bodies.

6.11 Many respondents said that when the civil partnership legislation was being prepared it was indicated that marriage would continue to be between a man and a woman. Respondents suggested that the current proposals went against assurances that were given at the time. This also made some respondents consider that, irrespective of any assurances given this time, proponents of further changes to marriage legislation (such as polygamy) would find themselves 'pushing at an open door'.

6.12 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, and cases of other people of faith who have found themselves in court or lost employment (because they were upholding their religious beliefs) were often cited. Some respondents made connections between the introduction of same sex marriage, the secularisation of society and a move away from the Christian values on which Scotland was built. Concerns about the impact any changes could have on Scottish society more widely were also strongly expressed. Some respondents stressed their view that the institution of marriage is the bedrock of a stable society and that any move that (further) undermines the institution would be of detriment to all. They also felt such a shift would have a particularly negative impact on children, who they believed are best brought up in a stable family environment provided by both a mother and a father. There were also concerns that, if same sex marriage were to be introduced, it would then be promoted within schools and, in the view of some respondents, become part of a wider agenda of 'normalising homosexuality'.

6.13 These concerns were often connected with a sense that the Scottish Government is responding to pressure from equality organisations more generally, and LGBT campaign groups in particular, and is unwilling to stand up to a small but vocal minority. A number of respondents questioned why, given all the other challenges the country faces, the Scottish Government is investing time and resources in looking at this issue at all, rather than dealing with problems that would be considered of much greater importance by the majority of those living in Scotland.

6.14 Finally, whilst the opinions set out above cover the content of the majority of comments made at Question 10, a small number of respondents did not wish to see the law changed for entirely different reasons. This group of respondents tended to consider marriage to be an outdated, patriarchal and essentially religious institution which should not be promoted. A small number of respondents also suggested that the Scottish Government would do better to invest its energies in addressing any issues that lead people to see civil partnership as inferior.

Reasons for supporting same sex marriage

6.15 As with those that opposed same sex marriage, those that supported the proposed change approached the issue from a position of general consensus, and 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 with a proud history of being a progressive, civilising influence in the world, beginning with the Enlightenment. It was suggested that Scotland should continue to lead the way or, at the very least, should not fall behind on issues of LGBT equality. Some respondents were concerned that this is an issue at all in 21st century Scotland and commented that treating people differently based on other characteristics, such as race, would never be considered acceptable. Some respondents suggested that for the Scottish Government not to take action to equalise the arrangements between opposite and same sex couples would be tantamount to state-sponsored discrimination.

6.16 Respondents supporting the proposed changes made frequent references to human rights, including, as discussed above, (paragraph 6.8) Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Respondents suggested that recent rulings from the European Court of Human Rights have made it clear that the reference to 'men and women' in Article 12 no longer means that the right to marry must in all circumstances be limited to two persons of the opposite sex. A number of respondents also felt that someone who is gay or lesbian should also be entitled to freedom of religion and belief and should not be prevented from having such a significant life event as a civil partnership or marriage solemnised within their faith.

6.17 It was clearly the case that the majority of respondents who stated that they held religious beliefs were opposed to the introduction of same sex marriage. However, there were exceptions, including a small number of the religious bodies that currently undertake religious marriage and that support the proposed introduction of same sex marriage. There were also a small number of religious celebrants who stated that they would be willing, or indeed would very much welcome, the opportunity to conduct same sex marriages, and in some cases also knew of couples within their congregation who would hope to have such a ceremony.

6.18 A small number of respondents stated that they would hope to enter into a same sex marriage, either as soon as it were made available or at some point further into the future, and were hoping it could be a religious marriage. Others explicitly stated that they would prefer a civil option. Although the reasons for this preference were not always stated, having no faith or being concerned that they would not be welcome within religious bodies was sometimes referred to.

6.19 Whether civil or religious, many of the respondents that supported same sex marriage commented about what they saw as the very simple human desire to marry the person that you love and to make a public and binding commitment to a life partner in front of family and friends. It was also clear that this was an issue of enormous personal importance to some of those that supported a change. 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. A small number of respondents who are in civil partnerships commented that they wished to, and felt they should be entitled to, refer to their legal lifelong partner as their husband or wife.

6.20 This issue of public perception was raised by a number of respondents. Some suggested that the current civil partnership arrangements are poorly understood by the wider community but that civil partnership is certainly seen as a lesser option. The impact that these perceptions can have on the way society treats people from the LGBT community was raised by a number of respondents and it was suggested that having different arrangements in place contributes to a perception people within the LGBT community are second-class citizens with lesser entitlements and that is may be acceptable to discriminate against them. Some very practical issues were also highlighted; for example, the belief that denial of the equal civil recognition of same sex relationships prevents many people from enjoying a whole range of rights with in areas such as welfare benefits and housing. Some group respondents suggested that civil partners may be being disadvantaged because those that provide services to the public simply do not know enough about the entitlements that may come from being in a civil partnership.

6.21 Whilst many respondents focused on the positives for individuals that could flow from the introduction of same sex marriage, a number made reference to the benefits to Scottish society more widely. For example, the public interests in favour of marriage that had often been identified by those opposed to the proposed changes were seen as applying equally to same sex couples by some of those in favour of the proposed changes. In essence, a number of respondents suggested that familial and societal cohesion, including the loving and responsible upbringing of children, would be supported rather than undermined by the introduction of same sex marriage.

6.22 Finally, some respondents also made specific points about the benefits that the introduction of same sex marriage would have in ending discrimination faced by transgender people. These issues will be covered in greater depth in the analysis of comments made at Question 20 (see Chapter 8).


Email: Social Research mailbox

Back to top