A leaked Scottish Government email suggests that gay marriage will have a devastating impact on religious liberty and free speech unless the UK Equality Act is changed.
Some have interpreted the email to mean there will now be a lengthy delay in bringing forward a Bill to legalise gay marriage in Scotland, but this is not necessarily the case.
The picture remains unclear, and the Scottish Government has vowed to make its position known by the end of the month.
The leaked email – revealed by the BBC – proves beyond doubt that redefining marriage would have a far-reaching impact, including on what is taught in schools.
The Scottish Cabinet recently set up a sub-committee chaired by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to examine the “religious liberty and freedom of speech” problems of redefining marriage.
The email, written by unnamed Scottish Government officials, says that Government ministers may introduce gay marriage by means of civil and religious ceremonies.
It adds: “However we may also say, and give considerable prominence to saying, that the government recognises the need to provide appropriate protections for some in Scottish society who are against same sex marriage.
“I expect we will say that the Equality Act 2010 needs to be amended to provide full protection for individual celebrants who are opposed to same-sex ceremonies, even if their religious body has decided to opt in to carrying out such ceremonies.
“…We would not introduce a bill into the Scottish Parliament until we had reached agreement with the UK government on the types of amendment that might be needed to the Equality Act 2010.
“It is likely that our ministers would not wish to commence any Scottish Act introducing same-sex marriage until the amendment to the Equality Act is in place.”
The email also suggested that new guidance may be needed for teachers on the subject of gay marriage, which the civil servant described as a “sensitive” issue.
It said: “On education, our initial thinking is that we might need to issue more guidance on matters such as teachers using educational material which might be sensitive and on parents’ rights to be consulted on lessons which might be sensitive.
“Again, there may be pressure for legislation. However, we think this might be too inflexible and could have an adverse impact on a child’s right to an education.”
Scotland for Marriage is campaigning against the plans to redefine marriage. A spokesman said: “This leaked e-mail shows that we have been right all along about the far-reaching implications of redefining marriage, including its impact on schools.
“You can’t rewrite the law on marriage without unravelling hundreds of years of law and culture.
“Our concerns certainly include the Equality Act, but they don’t end there. If marriage is redefined, then human rights laws, or the European court, or future governments could end up penalising people who believe in traditional marriage.
“The only way to be sure of avoiding this legal minefield is to drop these deeply unpopular and highly divisive plans to rewrite the meaning of marriage.”