Following the announcement that it will bring forward legislation to allow gay couples to marry, the Scottish government has published figures from its public consultation last year.
The figures categorise support and opposition to the move through the public consultation, which closed in December, as well as postcards received and petitions signed.
77,508 responses were received, 375 from organisations and the rest from individuals. 81 percent of respondents came from Scotland, 19 percent from other parts of the UK or abroad.
The figures published by the government today show that with all forms of response in the consultation period considered, including postcards and petitions, 36 percent were in favour of equal marriage with 64 percent against.
Marriage equality opponents ran a well-funded campaign with the Catholic Church delivering 20,000 postcards designed to lobby the government to reconsider its position, which was to lean in favour of the move.
When consultation responses alone are considered, on the basis of the official responses filled in and sent to the government, the figures are reversed.
65 percent of what are termed ‘standard’ consultation responses were in favour of equal marriage rights for gay and straight couples with only 35 percent opposed.
When responses from outside Scotland were factored in, standard consultation responses were split 49 percent in favour and 50 percent opposed.
The government said there was an overwhelming consensus among equal marriage proponents and opponents that no faith or individual celebrant should be forced to conduct a gay wedding against their will.
Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government understands and respects the fact that there are very deeply held views in Scotland both for and against same sex marriage and, in coming to our decision, we have had to carefully consider a number of different factors.
“We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe that this is the right thing to do.”
Ms Sturgeon highlights that all other party leaders support equal marriage along with the majority of MSPs.
She went on: “However, we are also deeply committed to freedom of speech and religion. The concerns of those who do not favour same sex marriage require to be properly addressed. It is therefore right that the next step in this process will be to consult stakeholders on any provisions that may be required, in either statute or guidance, to protect these important principles and address specific concerns that have been expressed.
“The Scottish Government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws.”
She said an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 was necessary in the Scottish government’s view to ensure that individual religious celebrants who disagree with their faith’s position in favour of solemnising gay marriages should not be forced to conduct them. With cooperation in Westminster, she said this would be possible before the legislation comes into force.
She continued: “A range of other concerns have also been expressed and we will take the opportunity to discuss with stakeholders what additional protections should be included, either in the legislation itself or in guidance, to address these.
“This will include consideration of any provisions that may be required to protect religious beliefs of teachers and parents in schools.
“We also intend to protect the current situation whereby the faith content of the curriculum in Catholic denominational schools is determined by the Scottish Catholic Education Service.
“Scotland is by no means the first and will not be the last country to legalise same sex marriage. However, as we proceed towards legislation, our overriding concern will be to respect the variety of views that exist on this issue and do whatever we can to address those concerns that have been expressed, while ensuring that Scotland lives up to its aspiration to be an equal and tolerant society.”
A Scotland for Marriage spokesman said: “We are deeply unhappy at the decision by the Scottish Government to proceed with its plans to redefine marriage by proceeding with legislation which will penalise and punish those who disagree with redefining marriage.
“They have ignored their own public consultation, and announced that they will proceed with legislation even though – by their own admission – the civil liberty concerns still hang in the balance.
“It has become abundantly clear to the country the proposals from the outset have been ill-conceived and poorly thought out with no consideration for the views of the vast majority in the country, including people of faith.
“Now they are planning yet another consultation. Will they simply consult and consult until they get the answer they want? As they do so, their continued posturing puts the civil rights of religious people at risk.”