Exclusive: Scottish Tories claim SNP Govt slow to legalise equal marriage due to referendum

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Legalising equal marriage in Scotland has taken longer than in England because the SNP government has diverted all resources to its pro-independence campaign, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has claimed.

Speaking exclusively to PinkNews, Ruth Davidson, the UK’s most senior openly gay politician, said it was highly likely that Scotland’s Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill would soon pass – but that the process could have happened a lot sooner.

“I am not in charge of the Scottish Government’s timetabling,” Ms Davidson said to PinkNews.co.uk. “What I can say is that, with this bill, as with any number of subjects in Scotland, there’s a lot in Scotland that’s not happening right now because the entire focus in the government is on the referendum in September next year.”

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”. But Ms Davidson believes the Scottish National Party leader has allowed the independence referendum to distract him from a whole range of issues, including “big infrastructures schemes, for building hospitals, schools and colleges” along with marriage equality.

When asked if she was disappointed that Scotland would be legalising equal marriage after England and Wales, Ms Davidson told PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s not a race. I think that when you’re trying to pass legislation as complex as same-sex marriage legislation, you want to get it right. In terms of my position on gay marriage, I’m giving all of my MSPs in the Scottish Parliament a free vote for this, a vote of conscience.”

A crucial Stage One debate and vote on the principle of the bill will take place in the week starting 18 November. If successful the bill will then enter its Stage Two committee stage. A final Stage Three vote is likely to occur between January and February.

Although the Scottish Tory leader is a firm supporter of equal marriage, six of her party’s 16 MSPs have stated they will vote against the bill.

“I will, personally, be supporting the bill,” Ms Davidson said to PinkNews.co.uk “I think that it has the sufficient safeguards for legislative institutions. It will allow religious bodies that want to carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies to conduct them. It will protect those who don’t from being compelled to. And I think it’s time.

“I think it’s time to introduce this in Scotland. I think that it matters that up and until now that there has been a law that (says) you are not allowed to be married to the person you love because of their gender. I am looking forward (to the vote) and I will lead the Conservative Party in the chamber on this. And I will be speaking on it for myself and leading for the Conservatives.”

The UK Parliament passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act for England and Wales in June and the first same-sex weddings are due to start by the summer of next year. In Scotland, ceremonies could take place by the start of 2015. From a legislative perspective the process to legalise equal marriage in Scotland appears simpler. Scotland’s Parliament does not have a second chamber. According to the Equality Network, 89 out of 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament have already pledged to vote in favour of the legislation.

PinkNews is awaiting a response from the Scottish Government regarding Ms Davidson’s comments.