John Mason, the Scottish National Party MSP, has cautiously welcomed details of a bill to legalise marriage for same-sex couples in Scotland from his party leader Alex Salmond.

The measure was announced yesterday by First Minister Alex Salmond as part of his government’s new legislative timetable for the coming year.

According to the Equal Network, a Scottish LGBT organisation, in Tuesday’s parliamentary debate a number of MSPs from all sides of the political divide spoke up in favour of equal marriage, but only one MSP, John Mason, took a different view.

Although opposed to “people of the same sex having a sexual relationship,” on the grounds of his Christian faith, Mr Mason welcomed Mr Salmond’s assurances that all MSPs would be given a free vote on the matter, and that no religious institutions would be forced to provide same-sex marriages.

Mr Mason claimed the strong display of cross-party support for the measure among party leaders is different to some of the views held in Scottish society; however Mr Mason’s belief is not sustained by recent polling data.

A poll conducted by Ipsos-MORI on behalf of the Equality Network, revealed in June that 64% of Scots supported equal marriage, with only 26% remaining opposed.

However, in yesterday’s debate Mr Mason said: “The wide range of views—often strongly held—among the public at large are not fully reflected in the [Scottish] Parliament.

“It seems that all the party leaders, and possibly a majority in each party support the introduction of same-sex marriage, whereas among constituents there is much more of a balance on both sides”.

He added: “I seem to hold a minority view on this subject, at least within this chamber.” He then went on to comment on how the reforms could alter the relationship between church and the state.

Mr Mason remarked that he was in favour of a “clear separation between church and state,” and said the discussions meant Scotland was “heading towards a healthier relationship between the two than we have sometimes had in the past”.

However, he also urged Mr Salmond to give greater details on how religious institutions that are opposed to equal marriage would be protected from legal challenges, saying:

“If same-sex marriage is introduced, the key question for me will continue to be: will freedom of speech and freedom of religion be maintained?

“Will the churches and others be allowed to opt out?

“I welcome the assurances on that from government ministers and from various pressure groups, who have been involved in the subject, but it remains to be seen whether and how that can be delivered”.