Scottish Health Secretary: Registrars will not be forced to marry gay couples

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

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

Mr Neil was taking questions on Thursday from the Equal Opportunities Committee which is examining the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

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.

But he stressed that it was a requirement of all authorities to ensure same-sex couples had absolutely no barriers to marriage ceremonies.

Mr Neil outlined how the arrangements governing marriage would mirror that of civil partnerships in Scotland. He described how some civil registrars disagree with civil partnerships, but local authorities have dealt with these incidents allowing “common sense” to prevail.

“Public sector registrars are there to carry out a public duty and are employed to do so,” he said.

Earlier this year, amendments urging for registrars to be allowed to opt out of performing marriages for gay couples were defeated in both the Commons and the Lords ahead of Royal Assent of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act for England and Wales.

The Equality Act 2010 for England, Wales and Scotland states that it’s illegal to refuse to provide goods and services based upon a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in February declared that registrars should not be able to opt out of performing marriages for same-sex couples because unlike religious ministers they are deemed to be public officials.

In January, Lillian Ladele, a former registrar from Islington, north London, lost a case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Ms Ladele had unsuccessfully argued that she should be permitted to opt out of performing civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples because of her Christian beliefs.