Scotland’s former First Minister, Jack McConnell, has called on the Scottish Government to introduce legislation which would allow gay couples to marry.

In a public letter to Scottish group the Equality Network, Lord McConnell urged the Scottish Government to “go for equality over discrimination” by choosing to back equal marriage in Scotland, arguing that “homophobic prejudice and discrimination is no longer an accepted or tolerated part of Scottish society.”

Lord McConnell oversaw the introduction of civil partnerships but, in his letter to the Equality Network today, he argues that system did not go far enough.

He wrote: “Whilst Civil Partnerships were the right thing for the Scotland of 2005, it is clear that attitudes have progressed, and that now is the time to give LGBT people the full legal and social equality that they deserve.”

He said lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people should now be “treated as equals, not as second-class citizens with fewer rights and a lesser status.”

Lord McConnell calls on the Scottish Parliament to use the powers it has already secured through devolution in order to introduce equal marriage, which he says is “fully consistent with Scotland’s values of social justice, equality and fairness.”

Lord McConnell points out that “in some countries LGBT people still face persecution, imprisonment and even the death penalty just for being who they are” he argues that Scotland should “take this opportunity to join with progressive countries around the world, and prove that we are enlightened, compassionate and forward-thinking as a nation.”

The Equality Network, the LGBT equality charity that campaigns for Equal Marriage in Scotland, have welcomed Lord McConnell’s timely intervention, believing it will increase pressure on the Scottish Government to announce legislation.

Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Equality Network, said: “We are delighted by Lord McConnell’s firm support for equal marriage.

“We strongly agree that same-sex marriage is a matter of social justice and equality, values that are at the core of Scotland’s identity. As First Minister, Jack McConnell worked to reduce inequality and prejudice in Scotland, and we welcome the continuation of this work by his successor. We look forward to a Scottish Government bill for equal marriage.”

The public consultation on same-sex marriage closed in December with over 50,000 responses. The Scottish Government is due to publish the results and announce its decision in July.

By this month, a majority of MSPs had signed the Equality Network’s Equal Marriage Pledge, committing themselves to voting in favour of same-sex marriage. 74 MSPs have now said they will vote in favour, whilst just 9 remain opposed.

Opinion polls have shown consistent public support for same-sex marriage in Scotland. The most recent poll was conducted in early June by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Equality Network. It showed record support with 64% of Scots in favour of a change in the law, and just 26% opposed. Separate polls conducted over the past two years by Populus, YouGov, Angus Reid, and the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, have all shown similar levels of support.