MSP John Mason believes civil registrars should be able to opt out of marrying gay couples in Scotland – in the same way doctors of faith can refuse to perform abortions.

The Scottish National Party MSP for Glasgow Shettleston put forward the argument as the Equal Opportunities Committee examined the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill on Thursday.

LGBT campaigners criticised the remarks on Twitter. Colin Macfarlane, the director of Stonewall Scotland said: “Dear John Mason MSP. There is no comparison between abortion and #equalmarriage. At all. So please stop making one.”

During the committee session, Scotland’s Health Secretary Alex Neil told MSPs that registrars who object to same-sex marriages will not be forced to carry them out.

The senior Scottish National Party MSP said the responsibility to provide equal access to marriage in Scotland would lie with local authorities, not with individual registrars.

He stressed that it was a requirement of all authorities to ensure same-sex couples had absolutely no barriers to undertaking marriage ceremonies – however his suggestion of allowing civil registrars in Scotland the right to exercise freedom of conscience on a matter of equality has been criticised by the Equality Network.

Policy Co-ordinator Tom French told PinkNews.co.uk: “LGBT people deserve equal treatment when accessing public services. That’s why we would strongly oppose anything being written into the bill giving public servants, including registrars, an opt-out from serving LGBT people.”