The Scottish government has launched its promised consultation on marriage equality.

The SNP-led government says it is considering whether to allow “religious ceremonies for civil partnerships and the possible introduction of same sex marriage”.

It is also seeking views on whether heterosexual couples should be permitted to have civil partnerships.

The introduction to the paper, by deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, says: “The Scottish government is choosing to make its initial views clear at the outset of this consultation.

“We tend towards the view that religious ceremonies for civil partnerships should no longer be prohibited and that same sex marriage should be introduced so that same sex couples have the option of getting married if that is how they wish to demonstrate their commitment to each other.

“We also believe that no religious body or its celebrants should be required to carry out same sex marriages or civil partnership ceremonies.”

The document points out that, at present, civil partnerships may not have any religious element.

It also states that there “may be a perception that civil partners do not have the same status and standing as married couples”.

The consultation asks whether religious institutions should be required to hold civil partnerships or marriages for gay couples.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is December 9th.

Tim Hopkins, of the Equality Network, said: “We welcome the start of the consultation, and we very much welcome the Scottish government’s stated initial position in favour of same sex marriage. It’s an excellent consultation paper covering all the issues.

“Now it will be really important for all supporters of equality and fairness to respond to the consultation, so that our voices are heard, and so that the Scottish government knows how important it is to legislate for equal marriage as soon as practicable.”

Civil partnership registration is a devolved matter, meaning Scotland has the power to pass its own laws on the issue.

A recent survey found majority support for the idea.

According to the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 61 per cent of people believe gays and lesbians should have the right to marry.

Last month, gay rights campaigners criticised the government for delaying a consultation on marriage equality in England and Wales.

Earlier this year, equality minister Lynne Featherstone said the government would begin asking for views on the issue in the summer.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are at the early stages of this work and will be, from the autumn, looking to discuss with a range of stakeholders how this work can move forward.”