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Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Scotland is likely to become the first part of the United Kingdom to achieve marriage equality. The Scottish government announced on July 25, 2012 that it will soon introduce legislation authorizing same-sex marriage.
The announcement follows a public consultation on the issue.
As reported by the BBC, the government will introduce legislation this year. Its plan would permit religious organizations to conduct same-sex marriages if they wish, but would protect celebrants and religious organizations from legal or disciplinary action if they refuse to take part in or speak out against same-sex ceremonies.
Scotland's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: "We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships--we believe that this is the right thing to do."
Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland's political correspondent, has predicted that the Scottish and U.K. governments will coordinate their plans and create legislation that will allow marriage equality to go into effect at the same time in Scotland, England, and Wales.
U.K. Prime Minster David Cameron has promised legislation before the next election, which must take place no later than 2015.
However, the Scottish government's plans go further than the U.K.'s current proposal. The Scottish proposal would permit both civil and religious ceremonies, with opt-outs for religious organizations that do not support same sex-marriage, while the current U.K. proposal would not allow religious ceremonies for same-sex marriage.
Tom French, policy co-ordinator for the Scotland's Equality Network, welcomed the government's announcement. He said, "Today is a proud day for Scotland. The Scottish Government have shown their determination to make Scotland a more progressive country. With cross-party support for equality in the Scottish Parliament we would expect that this change can be passed next year."
He added, "Same-sex marriage is about equality and freedom--the freedom for couples, and religious and humanist groups that want to, to celebrate same-sex marriages, but equally, upholding the freedom of other religious groups to say no to same-sex marriages. That's the right way for Scotland to deal with the different opinions on this."
The Rev. Alan Hamilton, convener of the Church of Scotland's legal questions committee, introduced a note of caution: "We are acutely aware that opinions differ among our own members and that many people are anxious and hurt in the current situation. We believe homophobia to be sinful and we reaffirm our strong pastoral commitment to all people in Scotland, regardless of sexual orientation or beliefs," he said.
But added: "We are concerned the government will legislate without being able to effectively protect religious bodies or their ministers whose beliefs prevent them from celebrating civil-partnerships or same-sex marriages."
Predictably, the reaction from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Scotland was negative. A spokesman said, "The Scottish government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale. We strongly suspect that time will show the Church to have been completely correct in explaining that same-sex sexual relationships are detrimental to any love expressed within profound friendships."
Previously, Cardinal O'Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, described same-sex marriage as a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right" and launched a last-minute bid for a referendum on the issue, which was rejected by the Scottish cabinet.
The Scottish government's public consultation on the issue of same-sex marriage had the biggest response of any Scottish government consultation. It drew 77,508 responses in total, with 14,779 from outside Scotland.
Many of the responses were postcard and petition responses circulated by anti-gay groups. Counting those, 64% of the respondents said they were against same-sex marriage. However, excluding postcard and petition responses and those from outside Scotland, the outcome shows 65% were in favor and 35% opposed.
As Stephen Gray reports in PinkNews, the majority of members of the Scottish Parliament have pledged to support the proposed legislation. In June the Equality Network announced that a majority of MSPs had signed its Equal Marriage Pledge, committing themselves to voting in favor of same-sex marriage. 74 MSPs have now said they will vote in favor, including the leaders of all the opposition parties. Nine MSPs remain opposed.
Opinion polls have shown consistent majority support for marriage equality in Scotland.
In the video below, members of LGBT Youth Scotland discuss the need for marriage equality.