On Tuesday 29th September, MSPs Patrick Harvie and Margaret McCulloch questioned Scottish Government Minister Marco Biagi about the Government’s position on equal civil partnership (read more about the Scottish Government’s consultation on this, and why we support equal civil partnership).
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi): The Government issued a consultation on the review of civil partnership on 22 September. In it, the Government indicated that we are not persuaded that mixed-sex civil partnership should be introduced in Scotland. However, the consultation invites views on that position.
Patrick Harvie: As the member who proposed, when civil partnerships were first being debated, that they should be created on the basis of equality and therefore open to mixed-sex couples as well as same-sex couples, I, like most members, was very happy to welcome that principle of equality being applied to marriage.
There is now no legal bar on same-sex couples marrying, and that is based on a principle of equality, to which I think most of us agree they are entitled.
It seems to me bizarre that we do not apply the same test to civil partnership. Why does the minister feel that a mixed-sex couple, whose neighbours—a same-sex couple—can choose cohabitation, civil partnership or marriage, based on their own values and priorities, should be discriminated against in law by having placed against them a legal barrier to one of those legitimate options?
Marco Biagi: I take a moment to join Patrick Harvie in welcoming the support that this Parliament showed for same-sex marriage, which was a landmark moment of this session that many of us were not just happy to see but personally very proud to be involved in.
The consultation sets out three options, one of which is the introduction of opposite-sex civil partnerships. The consultation carries with that the view that, having considered it, we think that there are arguments against it. There would be issues of low demand, limited recognition—particularly elsewhere in the United Kingdom—a lack of understanding about opposite-sex civil partnership and the rather liberal rights that we have around marriage in Scotland, which put the couple at the heart and give tremendous flexibility over where a marriage may be held, how it may be held and who can officiate at it.
The great challenge for this Parliament has been to legislate for same-sex marriage, and we have done so. This is another issue that we committed to considering, and we are now considering it. I would invite anybody with views on the issue to give them to the consultation.
Patrick Harvie: If low demand and the prospect of limited recognition overseas were legitimate reasons not to act, no country would have been the first to introduce equal marriage for same-sex couples. Countries would have anticipated both arguments and taken no action.
The minister is right to say that the three options are presented in the consultation paper. The arguments for and against option 1, of no change, and option 2, of closing down future civil partnerships, are presented. Option 3, of mixed-sex civil partnerships, does not have the arguments for and against it fairly represented. Is the minister able to confirm that, if the response to the consultation comes back showing that there is a strongly held argument in favour of mixed-sex civil partnerships, the Scottish Government remains open to the option?
Marco Biagi: The Scottish Government view, having looked at the evidence, is that we are not persuaded that mixed-sex civil partnerships should be introduced. Clearly, that view is in the consultation and we are inviting comment on it.
Over the years, many consultations have stated an outset position on which comment is invited and the Government then considers those comments. The Government will fully consider every comment on this consultation. I would draw a parallel with 2011, for example, when we produced a consultation on same-sex marriage, which indicated that the Government tended towards the view that it should be introduced. The consultation signalled a view while allowing everyone to give their views. I would encourage everyone who has a strong view to submit it to the consultation.
“I pledge to support the Equal Marriage campaign to lift the ban on same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnership in Scotland”.
Does the Scottish Government appreciate that, if this Parliament accepts its opposition to mixed-sex civil partnerships, we are breaking our promise to the people of Scotland?
Marco Biagi: The central and overriding issue of the pledge was to introduce same-sex marriage and, as I said, we are all proud to have done so. The Government, as opposed to MSPs, has been clear all along that, as part of the process, civil partnership would be reviewed. That is what we are doing. As I said, there are three options on the table. We have given an initial view. I would encourage everybody to respond to the consultation.