Scotland’s for marriage

Elaine Smith MSPElaine Smith MSP, deputy presiding officer in the Scottish Parliament, argued for polygamy in her written evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee last year, as the Scotland on Sunday anti-gay marriage story this morning quotes:

“Whilst the government has said that it has no intention of allowing polygamous marriages as part of this legislation which changes the essential nature of marriage, it has not explained in any detail and with research analysis its reasons for taking that position.

“Further, if the government is sincere about its support for ‘equal love’ then it appears to have a contradiction on its hands.”

There is “no logical reason” for discriminating against more than two people getting married if the redefinition of marriage is driven by love, Ms Smith adds.


Elaine Smith offers as justification for her worries:

“progression” in the Netherlands, which was among the first countries in the EU to introduce gay marriage in 2001 and now has civil union arrangements for three or more people which has been dubbed “polygamy in all but name”.

Except she’s wrong about the order of events:

The Netherlands passed legislation allowing notarised cohabitation agreements in 1995. The samenlevingscontract is a written agreement between people who live together, which may allow them to claim partner pension schemes and fringe benefits.

The cohabitation agreements – which can include three or more people – are not the equivalent of marriage, and pre-date the Netherlands lifting the ban on same-sex marriage by over five years.

Anti-gay marriage campaigns in Scotland and in England have both used the American script against lifting the ban on same-sex marriage, which includes very public fretting about the idea that if same-sex couples can marry, this means polygamy is just a step away.

This is rubbish, as Elaine Smith would have known if she’d given it a moment’s thought outside the script Scotland for Marriage was pushing her:

In Scotland, husband and wife have identical obligations, responsibilities, and rights. The Civil Partnership Act is the size of a telephone directory and it simply adds to each legislative reference for marriage, “or civil partners” to include same-sex couples. Working out the ramifications of this was an extensive piece of legislative work, and there was a long gap between the Act being passed and becoming law to allow public sector and statutory bodies to accommodate themselves to the change of recognising same-sex couples as equivalent to mixed-sex couples, whether married / in civil partnership, or simply living together.

Where equal marriage exists, and especially when same-sex civil partnerships have already been legislated for, opening up marriage to same-sex partners as well as mixed-sex partners is not a significant change – probably not even as complex as creating the separate-but-equal institution of civil partnership was.

This change was nothing beside the change that would be required to accommodate poly marriages in a legislative framework of equal marriage – a change, moreover, that no one is seriously arguing for – no one is campaigning for. Only the “Scotland for Marriage” crew, waving their American flag regardless.

Elaine Smith says she wants Scotland to delay lifting the ban on same-sex marriage until there’s some evidence of the “impact” in England and Wales. But as she herself noted, the first country to lift the ban on same-sex marriage did so twelve years ago – and there is literally no evidence and no rational support for the idea that countries which legalise same-sex marriage then go on to legalise polygamous relationships.

Countries where polygamy is legal in civil law are countries where a husband has different – and usually far greater – rights, responsibilities, and obligations in marriage than any of his wives. In the US, there remain some small communities of Mormons who transgress both their church’s law and US law in practicing polygamy, in a small corner where Utah, Arizona, and Colorado meet: all three states have passed legislation banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

….. Where polygamy is recognised in civil law, or where “customary marriages” include polygamy, same-sex marriage does not exist.

Same-sex couples can marry where marriage has become a relationship of two equals: where husband and wife have exactly the same rights, responsibilities, and obligations towards each other, lifting the ban on same-sex couples marrying beomes a simple legislative option.

The sole exception, South Africa, won equal marriage via its constitution [in 2006], and recognises polygamous marriage [in 1998] only because failing to do so would abandon women to a deeply unequal customary relationship without legal support.

Equal Marriage for Scotland

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Filed under Human Rights, LGBT Equality, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

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