Lawyers: Gay marriage poses threat to chaplains’ freedom

Public sector chaplains in Scotland who disagree with gay marriage may face legal difficulties, a body of independent lawyers has warned.

The Bill to redefine marriage has no provisions for protecting freedom of conscience, the Faculty of Advocates has said.

The group identified the problem in its written evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee which is considering the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

Pressure

It said: “Religious celebrants who belong to a religious or belief body which is in favour of same-sex marriage, but who have a conscientious objection to same-sex marriage, might be open to pressure from their religious or belief body to solemnise such marriages.”

It also said that “there may be particular implications for persons employedin the public sphere, such as hospital, prison and army chaplains” especially with regards to the public sector equality duty (PSED).

The PSED obliges public bodies like schools, local councils and NHS hospitals to actively push equality.

Opposition

The group also warned that the pressures faced by registrars to go against their consciences may be the same for individual ministers who do not want to perform same-sex ceremonies.

A Police chaplain in Scotland has already been removed from his post because he expressed his opposition to gay marriage on his personal internet blog.

Strathclyde Police told Revd Brian Ross that he can hold his beliefs in private, but publicly expressing them is a breach of their equality and diversity policy.

Warned

The Faculty of Advocates previously warned about how public sector workers, including teachers, will have to promote same-sex marriage in their response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the issue.

Janys Scott QC, from the group, said the Government could not provide a “cast-iron guarantee” of protection.

Tomorrow, a representative from campaign group Scotland for Marriage will give oral evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee.

The group has warned that there needs to be civil liberty protections within the Bill.

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