Monday, August 08, 2011

Mason's motion must not be allowed to frame the equal marriage debate

Checking Twitter last Thursday when I was in London, I saw discussion of an "equal marriage" motion from John Mason MSP. That surprised me, knowing that his views on this are not within a million miles of my own lifelong enthusiastic support for the cause. Could he really have changed his mind?  When I saw the text, it was clear he hadn't.
That the Parliament notes the current discussion about same-sex marriages and the Scottish Government’s forthcoming public consultation concerning equal marriage; further notes that, while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them; desires that Scotland should be a pluralistic society where all minorities can live together in peace and mutual tolerance; believes that free speech is a fundamental right and that even when there is disagreement with another person’s views, that person has the right to express these views, and considers that no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages.
Twitter was wrong to describe that ill-informed homophobic rant as an equal marriage motion as it was nothing of the sort. What we are seeing is a blatant attempt by John Mason to make this a debate about persecution of Christians rather than equality and fairness.

There is simply no way that any religious organisation will be forced to conduct same sex marriages against their will. What the proposal will do, however, is to give those who do want to, like the Unitarians and Quakers, the right to do so.  

Churches turn down people for marriage for all sorts of reasons. I couldn't get married in church even if I'd wanted to because my husband had been divorced before I met him. Other couples are turned down for not attending Church frequently enough. To my knowledge, there haven't been any of the court cases that John Mason has worried about on those issues. He's chucked a colossal red herring into the proceedings and he shouldn't be allowed to get a way with it.

And he hasn't been. Step forward Patrick Harvie and Willie Rennie who each submitted their own response. Willie said on Twitter that he hadn't seen Patrick's at the time he submitted his and has also signed Patrick's. They are slightly different, Patrick's emphasising that polls suggest a majority of Scots favour equal marriage:

As an amendment to motion S4M-00586 in the name of John Mason (The Equal Marriage Debate), leave out from “desires” to end and insert “considers that the balance between these views has changed substantially over recent decades, with the 2006 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showing 53% in agreement with equal marriage and only 21% in disagreement, and a poll in 2010 showing 58% support with only 19% against; congratulates the Scottish Youth Parliament on the launch of its Love Equally campaign for equal marriage and civil partnership, a campaign that it voted to select after consulting over 42,000 young people across Scotland; believes that the Scottish Government is recognising this shift in public attitudes with its forthcoming consultation on equal marriage; considers that allowing same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnerships would in no way undermine the rights and freedoms of those who do not wish to participate in them, and further believes that it would be both right and popular for secular and religious Scots alike to be free to reach their own view on the legal status that is right for their own relationship instead of being banned by law from having their relationships recognised on equal terms.”

Meanwhile Willie says it's all about fairness,equality and allowing those religious organisations who want to to be able to marry same sex couples. They are both good motions and I hope MSPs sign them both.

As an amendment to motion S4M-00586 in the name of John Mason (The Equal Marriage Debate), leave out from "the Scottish Government's" to end and insert "looks forward to the Scottish Government’s forthcoming public consultation concerning equal marriage; aspires for Scotland to be one of the most fair and equal places in the world; supports the extension of legal marriage to lesbian and gay couples, and believes that, while there would be no requirement on religious organisations, those religious denominations that wish to celebrate marriages for lesbian and gay people should be free to do so."
I was a bit worried, however, to see journalists Kenny Farquaharson and Euan McColm were seeking to make every MSP choose which side of the fence they were on right now. I'd like to see a grown up, mature, intelligent, respectful debate and dialogue on this so that we can win over not only the hearts and minds of MSPs who will be voting on this, but also more people in the country too. There's no harm in getting that pro figure up from the fifties to the nineties and I had that discussion with Kenny on Thursday. 

Let me give you an example of how minds can be changed. When Jamie Bulger's killers were released, even basically liberal old me had a bit of a hard time getting my head around it. Yes, I was reacting with my emotions and it was irrational - but, as Jennie said yesterday, we all act irrationally sometimes. I think in my case it was because Anna was around the age Jamie had been when he was murdered. Now, when I expressed those views in a secret part of the internet frequented by wise liberals, they didn't call me names, they didn't abuse me. They just spent time gently making me question my views and I realised that they were right and changed my mind. 

I was, frankly, disappointed by the number of MSPs who openly supported the equal marriage campaign in the last parliament from all parties, most especially my own at that time. At the time of writing this, only 21 of the 129 MSPs have signed either motion - and it's worth noting that Mason has lost 2 of his 5 supporters, with Gil Paterson now signing Patrick Harvie's amendment.  That shows there's a lot of work to do, a lot of gentle and respectful and grown up persuasion. There's a long time to go before this comes up in Parliament. Nobody needs to make their mind up just yet if they haven't already. Let's just make sure that the debate is founded on the positives as outlined by Patrick and Willie, and not the misinformation put out by Mason.

And can I just say that it's really important that every single person who supports equal marriage responds to the consultation. Opponents will be really well organised, and our side can be a bit lazy. I am not entirely convinced yet that the SNP Government wants to legislate on this although many of the party members support it. Let's not give them an excuse to kick it into the long grass.

I also commend to you two excellent posts on this. The Burd raises the spectre of Souter while LPW shares my desire for a tolerant and respectful debate.

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Looks to this USian like they're importing the same ridiculous arguments used here in the US. Sadly, they have too often succeeded in the US. I hope Scotland is better than that.


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