The Scottish Solution to Gay Marriage
Since 2008, Gallup polls have flipped on one of the most divisive issues of our time. Now, both parties and the courts are trying to catch up to public opinion.
In 2008, 40% of America believed same-sex marriages should be valid, while 56% of the country opposed the idea. Now, 55% support same-sex marriage, while 42% oppose. During this shift, the ideological battle has become ugly between conservatives and gays, who are both fighting for an all-or-nothing outcome.
But it might not need to be this way.
Scotland's recent solution to the same-sex marriage debate united their population -- both progressive liberals and many religious conservatives -- and we could follow their model. They, in effect, combined legalizing same-sex marriage with a version of the now-controversial RFRA laws protecting religious freedom in many American states.
Scotland's 2014 bill allowing same-sex marriage was passed by the Scottish Parliament almost unanimously in a predominantly Christian country. The "Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill" achieved this massive success by balancing the civil right to marry against conservatives' religious liberties.
This is no small feat, and the challenge will be steep in America. Many conservatives are sure that sanctioning gay marriage throughout the country will strike at the heart of the traditional family structure and is completely contrary to Christian-Judeo teachings. They also believe the change will deny Christians, and other religious people opposed to same-sex marriage, their religious liberties and eventually force people of faith to marry gays against their conscience.
The LBGTQ community firmly believes that marriage between same-sex couples is a right spelled out in the 14th Amendment and that not granting marriage rights to gays would mean outright discrimination against them.
These two positions are tough to rectify, but Scotland did it beautifully. The Scots' law states that religious groups can "opt in" to perform same-sex marriage, but are not compelled to do so. No religious community is forced to marry same-sex couples in their houses of worship.
Gays got the freedom to marry. Before, they had only been able to enter into civil partnerships. Gay rights groups supported this same-sex marriage law, as did the Labor (liberal) party leaders and Conservative party leaders. They accepted and embraced the compromise.
Scotland's law also allows that civil marriage ceremonies can take place anywhere agreed by the registrar and the couple, other than religious premises; it statutorily protects individual celebrants who feel it would go against their faith to carry out same-sex weddings; and it makes clear that the introduction of same-sex marriage has no impact on existing rights to freedom of speech and that it is indeed possible to oppose same-sex marriage "without being homophobic."
The Scots understand the critical importance of protecting religious liberties while granting gays the right to marry under civil law. This is exactly what compromise could look like.
The Conservatives in Scotland are not demanding a draconian ban on all same-sex marriages and rights, as many conservative Christians in the U.S. are demanding.
At the same time, LBGTQ groups are not demanding that Scottish churches marry gays, nor are they inciting intolerance or violence against religious people and congregations opposed to same-sex marriage.
This law upholds both tolerance and limited government. Christians are allowed to keep their traditional, religious definition of marriage in their own lives and churches, while same-sex couples can enjoy a secular, civil marriage. The LGBTQ community tolerates traditional Christians, and Christians tolerate non-religious, same-sex marriage.
While some of the extremes on both sides of this issue would be disappointed, the Scottish solution to same-sex marriage could work in America. Taking this social issue off the table would unite our country, allowing us to focus more on the massive economic and national security challenges affecting us all.