The Scottish government has been advised to give gay couples the right to marry.
A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says that current law discriminates against gay people and is not supported by public polls.
In England and Wales, the UK government has announced plans to hold a consultation on the future of civil partnerships and marriage. As these are devolved issues, the consultation does not apply to Scotland.
However, polls of the Scottish public have shown rising support for allowing gay couples to marry. In 2006, a poll found that 53 per cent of people supported same-sex marriage. In 2009, this figure rose to 62 per cent.
This, the report says, means politicians should not fear a “backlash” from the public. The government is being urged to start looking at the issue after the May elections.
The report, developed after a symposium on equal marriage, points out that as well as the issue of discrimination, civil partnerships are seen as having a lower status than marriage.
It adds that transgender people must divorce their partners in order to be recognised in their new genders.
In England and Wales, ministers are expected to look at the possibility of allowing all couples to choose between civil partnerships and marriage, something the Scottish EHRC report recommends.
Kaliani Lyle, of the Scottish EHRC, said: “Despite shifts in public opinion and indeed legislation in the UK, same-sex couples in Scotland continue to be denied access to marriage itself.
“It’s clear from statistics that there is not only a growing demand for same-sex marriage, but that public opinion is also increasingly positive, with a majority of people now supporting the option of same-sex marriage.
“Scotland now has the opportunity to lead the way in terms of legislative foresight and equality and the new Scottish government will have the opportunity to deliver fair and equal marriage choices to all.”
Tim Hopkins, of the Equality Network, added: “There have been big improvements in the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the past 20 years, but we remain the only group of people banned from marrying.
“We only have the choice of civil partnership, which was introduced to mark us out as not worthy of marriage itself. The same choices should be available to all couples, mixed-sex and same-sex.”
In the Westminster government, PinkNews.co.uk understands that the Liberal Democrats in government and increasingly Tories in the centre – including David Cameron – are minded towards full marriage equality.
An amendment in the Equality Act will give gay couples the right to have civil partnerships in religious buildings and ministers hope this provision will be enacted by the end of the year.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell is currently pursuing full marriage equality at the European Court of Human Rights.