Holyrood could pass a law to allow gay couples to get married “sooner rather than later”, the Health Secretary has said.
The Scottish Government will introduce a same-sex marriage Bill to the Scottish Parliament before the end of June. The UK Government’s plans to legalise gay marriage cleared the House of Commons last week.
Alex Neil told MSPs that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill will be introduced in the current parliamentary session, before MSPs break-up for summer at the end of next month.
The Scottish Government has pledged that if the Bill is passed, no church or religious celebrant will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages if they do not agree with them.
Talks have been taking place with the UK Government because ministers at Holyrood believe an amendment is needed to UK equalities legislation to protect individual celebrants who may not want to conduct same-sex ceremonies even if their church, as an organisation, backs them.
Mr Neil said “substantial progress” has been made on the issue in discussions with UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller.
Labour’s Drew Smith pressed him on when gay couples in Scotland would be able to get married, asking Mr Neil if he thought the first weddings “would take place before or after the September 2014 referendum”.
Mr Neil said: “I’m not thinking in terms of a referendum, rather the principles of the Bill. Obviously we have given a commitment to introduce this legislation after the extensive consultation we have had as quickly as possible, which is what we’re doing.
“I would hope the timetabling would be such that we could see this Bill become law sooner rather than later.”