Ahead of a key vote, Scotland’s Health Secretary Alex Neil has urged MSPs to support the country’s same-sex marriage bill, saying it would “send a clear signal that in a modern Scotland we are passionate promoters and defenders of equality”.

Mr Neil said: “At the heart of this issue there is one simple fact: a marriage is about love, not gender. I believe it’s essential that all couples in Scotland know they have the same rights and privileges, and the same ability to get married.

“I hope that our national Parliament takes this opportunity to send a clear signal that in a modern Scotland we are passionate promoters and defenders of equality, and I would urge MSPs to support the bill.”

Mr Neil stressed that he fully recognised and supported “the right of all members of the Scottish Parliament to vote on the bill as a matter of conscience”.

But he added: “This bill not only allows for same-sex couples to marry, it also puts in place protections on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

“We are allowing those faiths who wish to perform same-sex marriages to do so while also protecting those faiths and celebrants who do not wish to take part.”

A Stage One debate and vote on Scotland’s same-sex marriage bill will take place later this evening.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has described Wednesday’s vote as an “historic day for equality in Scotland”.

If the bill does pass Stage One it will then go back to the committee stage to make any amendments (Stage Two) and then back to the whole Scottish Parliament once more for a second and final vote on the bill as amended (Stage Three).

According to the Equality Network, 98 out of 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament have already pledged to vote in favour of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

First Minister Alex Salmond firmly supports equal marriage and released a video in August for the Equality Network saying the reform was “the right thing to do”.

Seven out of 65 of his Scottish National Party MSPs have stated they will not support the bill and are likely to vote against.

Earlier this month, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson reaffirmed her commitment to equal marriage in an interview with PinkNews.

Six of her party’s 16 MSPs have stated they will not support the bill and are likely to vote against – including SNP minister Alasdair Allan. 

Yesterday, the MSP said he would not vote in favour of the bill – but he still expects it to pass.

Meanwhile, Labour MSP Elaine Smith, is so far the only Labour MSP out of 37 to confirm she will vote against the bill.

The Equality Network is holding a rally outside the Scottish Parliament this afternoon.