Mr Mason’s motion notes “the current discussion” around same-sex marriages, further notes that “while some in society approve of same-sex sexual relationships, others do not agree with them” and “considers that no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages”.
The perceived negative tone has led to a chorus of voices raised in protest. A strongly worded amendment tabled by Patrick Harvie MSP focuses on equality in society and before the law. A further amendment from Willie Rennie MSP highlights that churches would be free to choose whether or not to recognise same-sex services, so one wonders who it is who might be forced to be involved?
With both sides of this debate using the language of rights here are some initial thoughts on what I think a human rights analysis can bring to this debate.
Firstly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear (Article 18) that everyone has “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and (Article 19) that everyone has “freedom of opinion and expression”. So John Mason is quite correct that free speech is a right and that people have a right to express those views. Article 16 sets out that “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses” so clearly it is also true that “no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriages”.
So Mr Mason is within his rights to disapprove of same-sex marriages, to express that disapproval (peacefully and without incitement to hatred) and to not be forced to be involved.
Yet that is only half the story. Certainly the Declaration itself was agreed in 1948, and betrays the expectations of that time in the text (Article 16) “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.”
Clearly same-sex marriage is not specifically listed as a right in the UDHR. Yet a certain degree of future-proofing was built into the text through the firm commitment to equality in the opening preamble and in Article 2 “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.
I cannot reconcile this clear principle with the State imposing discriminatory criteria as to who can participate in its institutions – another clear example of such is the prohibition of a Catholic, or anyone married to a Catholic, from becoming the monarch.
So while any individual can claim their right to express themselves as they see fit there is no point in trying to appeal to human rights to justify limiting the right of others to do the same.
With rights come responsibilities. If you want to go beyond asserting your own rights, and to actually respect and promote the human rights of others, then equality of status and opportunity is the only way to go.
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