Today, Scotland’s equal marriage bill began its journey through the Scottish Parliament as groups supporting and opposing the measure appeared before the Equal Opportunities Committee to give evidence.

The Committee is responsible for scrutinising the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, and will hear from a wide range of stakeholders in the coming weeks before making recommendations to the Scottish Parliament on whether the Bill should proceed and in what form.

The Equality Network appeared before the Committee to make the case for equal marriage and to recommend improvements to the Bill, including a set of small amendments designed to ensure the Bill delivers equality for transgender people.

Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network, who gave evidence at today’s session said“This is a well-considered Bill that is good for equality and good for religious freedom. It will give LGBT people an equal right to marry the person that they love, and will protect and extend the rights of religious groups. In the coming weeks we will be working with the Scottish Parliament to ensure that the Bill meets the needs of transgender people too and gets the strong majority it deserves.”

It is expected that a Stage One vote on the principle of the Bill will take place by the end of November.

Opinion polls have shown consistent public support for same-sex marriage across Scotland. The most recent poll was conducted in June 2012 by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Equality Network. It showed record support with 64% of Scots in favour of same-sex marriage, and just 26% opposed. Separate polls conducted over the past three years by Populus, YouGov, Angus Reid, and the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, have all shown similar levels of support.

Support for equal marriage is also high in the Scottish Parliament. Over two-thirds of MSPs have now signed the Equality Network’s ‘Equal Marriage Pledge’ committing themselves to voting in favour of same-sex marriage. Signatories include First Minister Alex Salmond, all Cabinet Ministers, and the leaders of all four Parliamentary opposition parties. Whilst 89 MSPs have now said they will vote in favour, just 10 are publicly opposed.

Most countries around Scotland already have same-sex marriage, including Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal. Similar legislation was recently passed at Westminster in July for England and Wales.

Following the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act for England and Wales being given Royal Assent in July, the Equality Network, based in Edinburgh, in July issued a call to action for marriage equality supporters around the world to help Scotland become the next country to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament in June, and the first major vote is likely to take place in November, following initial scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee.

PinkNews has been working with and supporting the Equality Network’s campaign for equal marriage since 2008.