The strides made in LGBT rights in Scotland over the past decade have changed the nation from a reserved and somewhat intolerant society into one where the LGBT community is fast approaching a position of equal social and economic rights. Or have they? As Scotland consults on the ‘issue’ of gay marriage, some high profile remarks by politicians as well as previous campaigns by political donors have called into question what progress has truly been made.
Scotland has had a tumultuous relationship with the LGBT community over the years. Indeed, decriminalisation of homosexuality itself only occurred in Scotland in 1980, with Northern Ireland being the only part of the UK doing so later (in 1982). Yet in recent years, rapid progress has been made, with the tide of legislation removing Section 2A (Section 28 in England and Wales), introducing civil partnerships, creating hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation ,as well as legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of orientation. However, for all this, it is reasonable to ask how well Scotland has embraced change.
And it seems to be doing well, judging by reactions to events like Brian Souter’s infamous ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign, which aimed to retain Section 2A. Not only was Souter’s campaign derided in the media and across political parties, it was boycotted by most of the public and many public billboards displaying campaign posters were vandalised (Souter himself, now Sir Brian, has recently been nominated for a Stonewall Bigot of the Year Award). Progress has continued since then, as indicated by the ongoing consultation on gay marriage and opinion polls showing a significant majority of people backing gay marriage. Surely all of this is a welcoming indication that equality is now within reach?
Sadly, issues remain. John Mason MSP, a Nationalist politician, has moved that no organisation should be forced to conduct same-sex unions, despite clear public sentiment to the contrary. Fellow Nationalist Bill Walker added his voice to Mason’s campaign, saying that same-sex unions could never be seen as equal to heterosexual marriage. While those two MSPs – and their supporters – might worry anyone who hopes for progress, we must consider that the majority of MSPs – including most SNP members – reacted quickly to scorn the motion and Walker’s comments. Before the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, such views may have gone unnoticed; in the light of media and public scrutiny, thankfully, they seem to have little support.
The LGBT community’s struggle for equality and acceptance is not an isolated one, nor are the hardships which it endures. The blights of racism, gender inequality and sectarianism (to name but a few) are issues that pre-date the campaign for better LGBT rights in Scotland, yet they appear no closer to an end. If it is true for those movements then, sadly, it is equally true for us. There will always be people who seek to discriminate, marginalise and exclude others. As a minority, the LGBT community will unfortunately always be an easy target – and however promising signs are, it’s clear that there’s still work to be done to change that.