scottishflagThe Scottish government will introduce new powers to legalise same-sex marriages in churches and in civil ceremonies following the results of a public consultation.

A draft bill to be published later this year will allow gay and lesbian couples to marry with the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. It’s expected to be enacted next year, after Scottish ministers resisted intense pressure from the Catholic church to drop the proposals, reported the Guardian.

The legislation will include significant new protections and “conscience clauses” for churches and individual clergy who object to gay marriage on religious grounds, said Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister.

The consultation shows 77,508 responses were received, 375 from organisations and the rest from individuals. 81 percent of respondents came from Scotland, 19 percent from other parts of the UK or abroad.

The firgures show that with all forms of response in the consultation period considered, including postcards and petitions, 36 percent were in favour of equal marriage with 64 percent against.

However, marriage equality opponents ran a well-funded campaign with the Catholic Church delivering 20,000 postcards designed to lobby the government to reconsider its position in favour of the move.

When consultation responses alone are considered, on the basis of the official responses filled in and sent to the government, the figures are reversed.

65 percent of what are termed ‘standard’ consultation responses were in favour of equal marriage rights for gay and straight couples with only 35 percent opposed.

“We believe that in a country that aspires to be an equal and tolerant society, as we do in Scotland, then this is the right thing to do,” Sturgeon said.

“However, we recognise and respect the concerns that some have expressed, in particular the concerns that have been expressed by the churches. We are determined that the legislation which is brought forward will include protection for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

Tom French, co-ordinator for the Equality Network umbrella group, said it was a “proud day” for Scotland.

“Same-sex marriage is about equality and freedom,” he said. “The freedom for couples, and religious and humanist groups that want to, to celebrate same-sex marriages. But equally, upholding the freedom of other religious groups to say no to same-sex marriages. That’s the right way for Scotland to deal with the different opinions on this.”

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