John’s Speech in the Equal Marriage Debate

I thank the various groups that provided briefings for the debate. One line in the Equality Network briefing said that it would make Scotland fair and more equal if we agreed to the bill, and I agree with that.

The Parliament has an important role in serving the people of Scotland, and we know that the people of Scotland have different genders, races, sexualities and localities.

The committee structure plays a key role in our scrutiny of legislation. Much has been said about the Equal Opportunities Committee. I thank our convener, Margaret McCulloch, for her comments and her résumé of the work that took place. I also thank our valuable committee staff, who were tremendously helpful in providing support to enable us to scrutinise the bill.

A lot of evidence was taken and, like many, I have had a lot of communications. Some of them have not been particularly measured and others have clearly indicated that they have not read the proposals, which is a bit disappointing.

Of particular interest was a line of emails that I got. As someone who has spent all but a handful of years in the Highlands—I was born, was brought up and live there—I found being told that I could not possibly be a Highlander or I would not support the bill to be quite dismissive of an entire population and, indeed, the geography of the place.

In many locations around the globe—sadly, 21st century Scotland is no different—people choose selective tracts from a book of their choice to support various things. That might be girls not being educated; women not being allowed to be doctors or to drive motor vehicles; the mode of dress that can be worn; boys and girls not being allowed to be educated in the same room; the races being segregated; children being beaten; interfaith and interrace marriages being banned; goats being thrown off towers to their deaths; and people who love each other not being allowed to marry.

There have been many entirely reasonably expressed views. I do not go for the hierarchy. We either believe in equality or we do not; there is no hierarchy within that.

I will quote two of the communications that I have had. One is from a monk in an abbey in the Highlands and Islands, who concludes by saying:

“Of course the main victims in your favoured legislation will be children—but they don’t vote, so obviously can be safely ignored”.

I have to say that I will be safely ignoring that gentleman.

I commend the approach to children that is taken by Stonewall Scotland, which says:

“Existing law already states, rightly, that all decisions on adoption or fostering must be based on the best interests of the child. Stonewall Scotland agrees that prospective foster carers and adoptive parents should not be rejected solely because of their views on same-sex marriage. We do believe, however, that potential adoptive parents or foster carers should be assessed on whether they have a range of skills to support looked after children, including those who may grow up to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or may be experiencing homophobic or transphobic bullying.”

What a contrast between the views of that proponent of faith adherence and the support that we have had in the way of briefings from equality groups.

Similarly, like other members, I have received a communication from a Free Presbyterian minister, who says:

“If you ignore this warning”, the warning not to support the bill, “I am clear from complicity of you dying in your iniquity.”

He adds that his “conscience will be purged from any involvement in the national sin.”

I have news for the Rev Campbell: I am going to die, and my death certificate will not state that the cause of death was iniquity or involvement in the national sin.

To those sadly loveless communicants, I say that I, too, can quote from a book. The book that I will quote from says:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

A lot has been made of statistics, and Jackie Baillie has alluded to the social attitudes survey. To me, it is not about who can get the bigger gang together but about which group values equality more. We have heard about the civil registrars and the contrast with the faith adherents, but who would want to get married in a situation involving duress anyway?

It is quite clear to me that one person’s morality is another person’s prejudice. I am sad to say that we have heard a lot of prejudice in relation to this bill. As I have said before, I do not think that there can be any caveats in relation to equality.

We have an opportunity to make history. Not many people get that. There have been vital votes on franchise and slavery, and the future analysis of that has been important. James Dornan will be seen to have acted to make a difference.

I have one final quote, Martin Luther King Jnr, said: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too big a burden to bear.”

I ask others to facilitate the love that would allow people to marry, and to support this legislation