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The Catholic Church in Scotland has described same-sex marriage as “a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale”. It was responding to the announcement by the Scottish Government that it is set to become the first part of Britain to legalise it.
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Deputy First Minister, today confirmed she will bring forward legislation but said it will include “important protections” for clergymen, teachers and parents who oppose the move.
The announcement came despite the fact that two-thirds of people who responded to an official Government consultation on the proposal oppose the change.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "The Scottish Government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment. However, the church looks much further than the short-term electoral time-scales of politicians.
"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.
"However, in the short term and long term the Church does not see same-sex marriage as an appropriate and helpful response to same-sex attraction."
The Deputy First Minister said the first gay marriages in Scotland are likely to take place at the start of 2015, the same year that the Coalition Government wants to make the change south of the Border.
She said she is working with the Home Office to amend UK equalities laws to ensure that celebrants cannot be prosecuted by gay couples if they refuse to conduct a marriage service.
Announcing the decision to press ahead, Miss 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 this is the right thing to do. We are also mindful of the fact that the leaders of all of the other parties represented in parliament support same-sex marriage and that there is significant parliamentary support for legislation.”
She said existing equalities legislation prevents churches from being forced to conduct same-sex marriages but the law may have to be extended to protect individual clergymen from legal action.
The Home Office has indicated it is will to make the necessary amendments, she said. After this has been done, a draft Bill will be published later this year for consultation.
Miss Sturgeon also promised to protect the faith content of the curriculum in Catholic schools but would not say whether teachers in other schools would have a legal right to refuse to tell children about gay marriage.
She said parents would continue to have the right to withdraw their children from class if they disagreed with them being taught about homosexuality.
Meanwhile, singer George Michael, civil partnerships already offer same-sex couples the “same rights” as married couples.
Michael, who is openly homosexual, said: “Civil registration partnerships are legally correct. They give people the same rights as people in marriage.
“But I don’t believe in forcing it and I think it will fail if you force churches who don’t believe in it to have gay marriage ceremonies.”