Polling agency Ipsos-MORI and the Equality Network have defended a poll showing record levels of support for marriage equality in Scotland after a spokesman for the Catholic Church said it was ‘distorted’.

The Equality Network, together with LGBT Youth Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament, commissioned Ipsos-MORI to survey Scottish attitudes towards marriage and found that of 1,003 people asked, 64 percent supported the idea of allowing gay and straight couples an equal right to marry.

68 percent said they agreed with the idea that religious bodies should be free to perform the ceremonies if they chose to.

But the Catholic Church responded to the poll with scepticism, with its spokesman in Scotland Peter Kearney saying that the wording of the question threw doubt on the results.

People were asked whether they agreed with the statement: “Same-sex couples should have the right to get married.”

Mr Kearney told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme the poll was “deeply flawed”.

He said: “The public in general are very wary and unlikely to suggest a person shouldn’t have a right.

“When you begin your question by saying should someone have the right to same-sex marriage you automatically have distorted the result.

“To be honest the poll that matters is the three-month-long consultation that took place at the end of last year and in that one we know that the vast majority said marriage shouldn’t be redefined.”

Polling agency Ipsos-MORI issued a statement this afternoon following Mr Kearney’s comments: “We understand that this is an issue of heated debate in Scotland and across the UK and are aware of the coverage that our poll received on Sunday.

“The wording of the poll question was designed to ask the public about rights since, for same-sex marriage to be treated equally it would need to be enshrined as a right. The Equality Network is therefore interested in finding out whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry.

“Alternative wording would not have done that and we therefore do not accept that the survey is distorted in any way.

“We are confident that respondents will have understood the question and what is meant by a right. The question itself was balanced, allowing respondents to tell us whether they ‘agreed or disagreed.’

“The findings from the poll are also largely in line with much other survey evidence. For example, a poll we conducted across Britain in 2007 found that 68% agreed with the statement that ‘gay couples should be allowed to get married’ and the most recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, from 2010, found that 61% of adults in Scotland agreed that ‘gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry one another if they want to.’”

Tim Hopkins of the Equality Network told PinkNews.co.uk: “Our view is that it is absurd to say that people did not understand the question: Do you agree or disagree with the statement “Same-sex couples should have the right to get married”.

“If you oppose same-sex marriage, you’re going to answer ‘disagree’. It’s an insult to the intelligence of the 1,003 people Ipsos surveyed to suggest otherwise.”

Mr Hopkins added: “If the Catholic Church believes that including the word ‘right’ is a magic wand that turns public opposition into a large majority in favour, why haven’t they been commissioning opinion polls asking if people agree or disagree with statements like ‘The Catholic Church should have the right to run all Britain’s schools’?

“The answer of course is that a large majority would disagree with that statement – the word ‘right’ makes no significant difference.”

In today’s Scottish Daily Mail, Mr Kearney said it was an “outrageous slur” by the Equality Network’s Policy Coordinator Tom French to equate discrimination against gay relationships on the part of bodies campaigning against marriage equality with racism.

Mr Kearney said of marriage and racial equality: “The danger of equating one with the other is that it demeans those who are involved in the struggle for racial equality and minimises what they achieved. It’s an outrageous slur.”

The Scottish government’s consultation on equal marriage received around 50,000 responses, an analysis of which is expected to be published this month.