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Scotland's Muslim leaders to target politicians over same-sex marriage

MUSLIM leaders in Scotland are stepping up pressure on politicians over plans for gay marriage, with claims their views opposing the proposals are being "ignored".

PHOTOGRAPH: STEWART ATTWOOD
PHOTOGRAPH: STEWART ATTWOOD

Representatives from Glasgow Central Mosque will tomorrow hold talks with Health Secretary Alex Neil, who is in charge of the same-sex marriage plans.

The Muslim Council of Scotland is also due to meet with the minister later this month after an emergency meeting to discuss its response to the current consultation on the draft legislation.

The council, which represents Muslim associations, mosques and institutions, has also indicated it will lobby MSPs nearer the time of the vote on the legislation in the Scottish Parliament, which is expected later this year.

It comes after the Scotland for Marriage campaign – which is backed largely by religious groups including the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland, the Christian Institute and the Evangelical Alliance – stepped up its protest, delivering thousands of leaflets across the country.

While the SNP enjoyed a surge in support from the Muslim community in recent years over issues such as their stance on the Iraq war, there are claims that disquiet over the introduction of gay marriage could be reflected in the ballot box.

Dr Salah Beltagui, of the Muslim Council of Scotland, said a failure to take on board the views of the community during an initial consultation on the idea of same-sex marriage had already affected support for the SNP.

"We know of people who have actually withdrawn from the SNP as a party member because of this," he said. "After the first consultation [in 2011], people gave their opinion and that was ignored – which is really not good for the political process in general.

"There is always the call for people from ethnic communities to be engaged in politics and this was an exercise where people engaged but that proved negative."

Beltagui said the council was now drawing up a response as part of the current consultation on the bill to introduce gay marriage.

"I think people have it in their minds that when it comes to vote they will remember who voted where," he said. "Nearer the time [of the legislation vote] there might be a campaign aimed at politicians and MSPs especially."

Representatives from Glasgow Central Mosque, who will meet with Neil tomorrow, will raise concerns over the "destroying of the very old human institution of marriage".

President Dr Muhammad Kausar said: "We will tell him this is not what the Muslim community are going to favour at all. There are already civil partnerships – why do they want to change the definition of marriage?

"If anyone wants to be with someone of the same sex or live with them, we have nothing to do with that. But why change the definition of marriage which is one of the oldest institutions that human beings have known?"

The leaders of all Scotland's main political parties – Labour, Liberal, Conservative and Green – have given their backing to the plans to legalise same-sex marriage.

Earlier this month MPs approved legislation to introduce same-sex marriage in England and Wales, with the Commons voting in favour of legislation by a majority of 225.

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, pointed out that anyone inclined to switch voting allegiance as a protest over the issue had few options, particularly in Scotland where parties such as UKIP do not have a strong presence.

He said: "The legislation is going to get voted through by a majority of MSPs from all parties.We shouldn't be surprised that there is very substantial debate about this as we are talking about an incredibly rapid change in social attitudes.

"There will be grumbles, but with that you have to remember that within religious communities, the view of younger people will be different to that of older people."

He dismissed any notion it could have an impact on the independence debate, pointing out it was a social change happening "pretty much in parallel north and south of the Border".

And he added: "The other thing you have to remember here is the brutal truth that most people in Scotland are not religious any more. We are only talking about 12% of the population that goes to some form of religious observance on a regular basis.

"We can understand why there is the debate, but it doesn't seem to be that those who are opposed have anywhere to go north of the Border."

Glasgow SNP MSP Humza Yousaf said: "It is of course the case that the leaders of every political party in the Scottish Parliament, and the UK Government support equal marriage. Every imam I have spoken to thus far understands that religious freedom cuts both ways.

"While legal safeguards for mosques and those who do not want to solemnise same-sex marriage are vital, there is an understanding from imams that what others wish to do in their faith institutions is entirely their own business."

A spokesman for the Equality Network said marriage varies across the world and has "changed enormously" over the centuries.

He said: "50 countries, including a number of Muslim countries, currently allow polygamous marriage, which the law of Scotland has never allowed.

"In Scotland, marriage was once permissible at 12 years old. The meaning of marriage has changed a great deal, many times. Introducing same-sex marriage is in comparison a small change, which will make no difference to mixed-sex marriages."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said meetings were taking place with religious groups to hear their views.

She added: "Same-sex marriage should not impact on religious freedom and no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages – and those which do wish to will have to opt in.

"Where a body does decide it wishes to be able to conduct same-sex marriages, we will also protect individual celebrants who consider such ceremonies to be contrary to their faith."

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