Gay MSP Paul O’Kane tells SNP’s Kate Forbes: ‘My marriage isn’t up for debate’

Paul O'Kane pictured on the left in the Scottish Parliament. On the right, he is pictured on his wedding day with his husband.

Paul O’Kane, a gay Labour member of the Scottish parliament, is among those to share his disgust at the SNP’s Kate Forbes.

Forbes, one of the three declared candidates for the SNP leadership race, has faced searing backlash after she said she would have voted against same-sex marriage if she was an MSP when the measure was passed.

O’Kane, Labour’s shadow minister for public health, married his husband in 2021.

He characterised Forbes’ comments as “really jarring”.

“It’s actually quite upsetting if I’m honest because I think it’s the sense that my marriage is somehow different or of less value,” he tells PinkNews.

Paul O'Kane during First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on November 10, 2022.
Paul O’Kane during First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on November 10, 2022. (Ken Jack/Getty)

“Really what I detected was a lack of respect and empathy for me and for hundreds of people like me across Scotland, and more widely, across the UK who are in same-sex marriages, and indeed for the wider LGBT community.

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“It will be very harmful and very upsetting for so many people.” 

Kate Forbes is ‘out of step’ with Scottish society on same-sex marriage

As far as O’Kane sees it, same-sex marriage is a “fundamental right” that must be protected.

“Kate Forbes is entitled to her view and to her religious beliefs – but it’s really concerning to hear people call into question what is a key social issue and a really important part of the fabric of our national life.

“These rights can be taken for granted. I think in recent times we’ve seen that we can’t take these things for granted, they were hard fought for and hard won.”

O’Kane married his partner in August 2021 – he describes their wedding day as a happy, joyous occasion where all their friends and family came together to celebrate their relationship.

This included people of faith.

“It really was a great day. Many of our family and friends at the wedding were people of faith from the Catholic community and they were there to support, acknowledge and bless our love, and that’s what was important to them,” O’Kane said.

Kaet Forbes and Nicola Sturgeon
First minister candidate Kate Forbes would not have voted for same-sex marriage (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

“A lot of what we’ve heard in the last few days is out of step with how most people in this country feel and think about their loved ones who are LGBT.” 

As the leadership race rumbles on, O’Kane wants LGBTQ+ people to know they’re loved and supported – even if politicians feel the need to debate their fundamental rights.

“It’s a very worrying time with a lot of hatred and rolling back of rights. We need to stand up and make sure people feel supported.” 

Forbes has faced furious backlash since she expressed her view on same-sex marriage, but she has denied her campaign is over as a result.

Speaking to Good Morning Scotland, she said: “I understand people have very strong views on these matters. 

“I think the public are longing for politicians to answer straight questions with straight answers and that’s certainly what I’ve tried to do in the media yesterday. That doesn’t necessarily allow for much nuance.

“My position on these matters is that I will defend to the hilt everybody’s rights in a pluralistic and tolerant society, to live and to love free of harassment and fear.”

She has also apologised for “hurt and offence that has been caused”, telling ITV News: “I absolutely defend people’s right in this country to marry, as they’ve been able to do for the past nine years.”