The bishop has written to David Cameron, quoting comments the Prime Minister made during a Gay Pride reception at 10 Downing Street in June.
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Cameron said then: “I am pleased to announce that we are taking a further step, and I think a good step and a right step – and I say this as someone who believes in marriage, who believes in civil partnership, who believes in commitment – and that is to say that if religious organisations, if churches, if mosques, if temples want to have civil partnerships celebrated at religious places of worship, that should be able to happen and we should make that happen.”
Now the bishop has written to Cameron, saying: “Your statement is vague enough to have more than one outcome in practice. But you and your Government need to be aware from the outset that the Catholic Church will not register civil partnerships nor celebrate same-sex unions: not now, not in the future, not ever, no matter what legislation or regulations your Government enacts or endorses.”
Since 2005, same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships, which provide the same legal rights as marriage.
But they are not officially termed marriages and civil partnerships may not be conducted on religious premises or by religious celebrants. Equality campaigners regard this as discriminatory and, as The Herald revealed earlier this week, there are moves north and south of the Border to change the law to equalise gay and mixed-sex marriage.
The Scottish Government used a Sewel motion to allow Westminster to legislate on civil partnerships in 2005 on the basis that the law involved tax and immigration issues, which are reserved.
However, campaigners believe that Holyrood could introduce an equal marriage law unilaterally in Scotland, provided Westminster co-operated, and are pressing the Scottish Government to act.
The Equal Marriage Campaign – backed by the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and individual SNP and Labour MSPs, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups and some church leaders – want the ban on same-sex marriage lifted and for religious and humanist celebrants to have the freedom to officiate at same-sex marriages.
Polling evidence suggests a majority of Scots would back the move.
Tim Hopkins of Equality Network said: “We have been absolutely clear in our submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee that every religious body would have absolute freedom to opt out. We would like to say to religious groups that those who wanted to conduct these ceremonies could do so, but those who didn’t, wouldn’t have to. It’s about religious freedom both ways.”
A poll of 1000 Scottish adults conducted in mid-April by the Scottish Green Party indicated that 58% agreed with the statement that gay or lesbian couples should have the right to marry one another if they wanted to, while 19% disagreed. The same question was asked in the 2002 and 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes surveys. The latest poll suggests a significant rise in the num-ber of people who agree with the statement since 2002 (17%) and a drop in those who disagree (10%).
An e-mail survey by the Equality Network of 430 LGBT people found that only 6% were satisfied with the status quo.
Juliet Wilson, convener of the Humanist Society of Scotland, said: “We would be enthusiastic about conducting marriages for same-sex couples. Everyone should be able to get married legally in the way they want.”