The Scottish government has announced it will introduce gay marriage legislation, making it the first part of the UK to allow same-sex couples to wed.

Scotland’s deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed yesterday that a bill will be brought forward that would see the first same-sex marriage ceremonies (both civil and religious) likely to take place by the start of 2015. Churches will not be compelled to marry gay couples if they do not agree with them.

“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 that this is the right thing to do,” Sturgeon said.

“The Scottish government has already made clear that no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages and we reiterate that today. Such protection is provided for under existing equality laws.

“However, our view is that to give certainty on protection for individual celebrants taking a different view from a religious body that does agree to conduct same-sex marriages, an amendment will be required to the UK Equality Act.”

Scotland’s Catholic Church has been the main opponent of marriage equality in the country and responded to yesterday’s announcement by saying marriage rights were not a “helpful” response to gay feelings.

“The Scottish Government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale. However, the church looks much further than the short-term electoral time-scales of politicians,” a Church spokesman said.

“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.”

Scotland currently already has civil partnerships available to same-sex couples.

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