RELIGIOUS groups, including the Iona Community, have called on the Scottish Government to allow them to carry out same-sex marriages.

Seventeen faith groups and 24 religious leaders have written to First Minister Alex Salmond demanding assurances that Scottish Government plans to legalise same-sex marriage will respect the religious freedom.

The Scottish Government is currently carrying out a consultation into whether same-sex marriages should be allowed.

It has faced severe opposition from the Catholic Church, evangelical churches and some Muslim groups. But in what can be regarded as a rebuttal of that criticism, a letter has been sent to Mr Salmond, from representatives of the Humanists, Unitarians, Quakers, Liberal Judaism, the Metropolitan Community Church and the Iona Community, asking for the right to conduct same-sex ceremonies.

Signatories include Roddy Macpherson, President of the Scottish Unitarian Association, Phil Lucas of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Scotland, Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu and Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, representatives of the Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism, Rabbi Mark L Solomon and the Rabbi for Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community.

They warn the First Minister that they would "strongly oppose" any attempt to restrict same-sex marriage to purely civil ceremonies, and seek a "firm assurance from the Scottish Government that any proposed legislation will allow those religious and humanist bodies that want to conduct same-sex marriages to do so".

The move has been welcomed by human rights campaigners and supporters of same-sex marriage. Tom French, policy co-ordinator for the Equality Network, said; "This is yet more evidence that there is broad support for equal marriage across Scottish society.

"Faith groups that do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages should not be forced, but the opponents of equality should respect the religious freedom of those denominations that do."