SNP MSP John Mason has lodged a motion ahead of a Scottish Parliamentary consultation on the legalisation of same-sex marriage in which he appears to oppose equality of opportunity for gay people on the basis that “while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them.”
That does indeed appear to be a strange logic from an SNP perspective. If Mason genuinely believes that a level of societal opposition can act as a basis for rejecting legislative or constituional change, it could quite logically follow that Scottish independence should never be granted simply because there will always be some within Scottish society who will disagree with it.
Mason causes further controversy by arguing that "no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages." By doing so he is of course suggesting that those (presumably religious) people and organisations that are opposed will be in some way compelled to conduct same-sex marriage. Either Mason is confused and doesn’t fully understand the nature of what is being consulted or else is intentionally creating unnecessary and unhelpful controversy: no-one will be coerced or forced into approval of same-sex marriage under any new arrangements (forced approval being something of an oxymoron in any case) but instead those religious organisations that wish to carry out same-sex marriages will have the legal freedom to do so.
Defending his motion, Mason argued that “a key concern of mine is that freedom of religious belief and expression are protected.” Yes, that old chestnut. I know that Dame Brian Souter is a friend of the SNP but I didn’t realise that some of their MSPs would so quickly become spokespersons for institutionalised homophobia. “I do have some concerns about Christian people getting hammered during this” added Mason, perhaps not realising that there are more than reasonable concerns about gay people also getting “hammered during this” or that his actions are more likely to ignite an unnecessary controversy in which views such as his will be openly lambasted.
I agree that hate crime is abhorrent, whether it in the basis of either sexual orientation or religious belief – or for that matter on any other superficial factor. But surely Mason’s motion is not the best way to create a peaceful and harmonious society? It has euphemistically been labelled an “equal marriage motion” but that really is stretching the truth more than a little. Let’s call it what it is – a homophobic and intolerant reaction against liberal values.
Hiding behind “freedom of speech” arguments is facile and a completely spurious defence. If Mason values such freedom so highly, why does he not see fit to grant it to those churches and religious organisations who have different perspectives from those he personally holds? And if his purposes for putting forward the motion are to facilitate “a pluralistic society where all minorities can live together in peace and mutual tolerance” (as stated within the motion), surely it is self-defeating?
Fortunately, Green, Labour and Lib Dem MSPs have hit back. As have many SNP MSPs understandably not too taken with Mason’s approach or his homophobic motion. Patrick Harvie told The Scotsman that “John Mason's attitudes to equal rights seem stuck in the dark ages, and raising a spurious objection about freedom of speech is nothing but a distraction." On the Greens’ website he goes further:
"Members of Parliament should be recognising the groundswell of support for family law to be about love and commitment, not sexual orientation. They should be representing the views of the people, not delivering misleading attacks on campaigns for equality and defending outdated and intolerant attitudes.
"Many progressive SNP MSPs will be holding their heads in their hands today to read what John Mason has written. Perhaps someone could sit down with him and explain that two men or two women deciding to get married doesn't infringe the rights of heterosexual couples who want to marry, and that there's no secret gay agenda to undermine society, just a campaign to be allowed to play a full part in it.
"The current system of family law goes by the out-dated notion of 'separate but equal', and it fails to recognise people's relationships on their own terms. Moving to properly equal marriage would also allow religious groups to make their own minds up - groups like the Quakers and the Unitarians back equal marriage and wish to be allowed to conduct marriages for everyone in their congregations irrespective of sexuality. Scotland's ready to take the next step towards full equality, and it's now up to the SNP to deliver it, not get sidetracked by the likes of Mr Mason."
Harvie has tabled an amendment to the motion which I hope will be carried and which I am pleased has been signed by, among others, Paisley MSP George Adam. Willie Rennie has informed me he has also signed it.
SNP MP Pete Wishart also weighed in heavily against his colleague's motion, using twitter to explain that "John Mason's nasty little anti gay marriage motion is just wrong, and really dissapointed that other colleagues have signed it." I couldn't have put it better. However, Salmond and Sturgeon have maintained a silence on the matter rather than take a lead against Mason's intolerance.
This kind of intervention from John Mason was unhelpful; at another time it could have been potentially explosive. Fortunately, social attitudes have changed in the eleven years since Souter’s Keep the Clause campaign and I think the motion will be defeated easily. But that in a sense is not the point: why do the likes of Mason arrogantly believe that their religious views allow them to dictate social freedoms and the life choices others are allowed to make?
Finally, I would like the opportunity to speak to Mr Mason – if only to show him that there is nothing inherently Christian about intolerance and discrimination. More Christians are challenging the rather simplistic interpretations of the Bible’s supposed stance on homosexuality and as a result have softened their approach towards same-sex marriage and gay rights. Some, like myself, actively champion them. I’m going to write to him personally to request an audience; I don’t expect a reply but I am certainly going to promote the case for an inclusive church in the heart of a tolerant society. And I will be asking my own MSP, the SNP's Derek Mackay, to add his name to Harvie's amendment.