EQUAL marriage campaigners have welcomed the publication of a Holyrood Bill which goes significantly further than proposals south of the Border.

But there is limited good news too for opponents of same-sex marriage, with a requirement for churches and belief groups to opt-in to permitting ceremonies rather than having to opt-out, and a ban on rebel celebrants within faiths going it alone.

Unlike the Westminster proposals, which exempted the Church of England and the Anglican Church in Wales, the Holyrood legislation would leave it open for any Church or belief group to make its own decision, which may change in time.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Alex Neil, said: "We hope the debate will be conducted in a good spirit and civilised manner. Our key aim is to provide equality while, at the same time, promoting and protecting religious freedom and freedom of speech."

The Government has issued a 167-page consultation document outlining a proposed Bill with a number of significant features:

l Both marriages and civil partnerships would become open to same sex couples.

l Religious or belief bodies would have to opt in if they wish to solemnise same-sex marriages or civil partnerships and celebrants would be bound by the ruling of their Church or group.

l Where a church or group opts in, an individual celebrant could still refuse to participate.

l The UK Equality Act would be reformed to provide for this and freedom of speech would be protected for those arguing against equal marriage.

l There would be no change to Catholic education, the wishes of non-denominational teachers would be discussed and employment rights would be protected.

l Sex education would be updated and parental rights of opt-out would be maintained.

l Transgender people would no longer have to divorce in order to register their new gender.

Rev Alan Hamilton, convener of the Church of Scotland's Legal Questions Committee, said: "Unless our General Assembly decides otherwise, we cannot support the Government's proposals on celebrating civil partnerships or same-sex marriage.

"We have also expressed concerns about the speed with which the Government is proceeding with this and what we fear will be inadequate safeguards for religious bodies and ministers and people of faith who view this as being contrary to their beliefs. We are acutely aware that opinions differ among our own members and many people are anxious and hurt in the current situation."