JOHN MCKEE calls for the Scottish Government to press ahead with plans to introduce gay marriage in Scotland.


Though conscious of sounding overly dramatic, like I’m writing the intro to some hackneyed class struggle novel, I want to give you a sense of where I am in time: I’m 24 and my generation is the first to offer a real, un-selfconscious belonging to gay people, but I still remember the difficulties of growing up in an environment where we didn’t quite belong. I grew up in Greenock, a hard-headed Scottish town full of the historical remnants of the male grit of Shipyards proudly come and angrily gone.  Lingering conceptions of the hyper-masculinity of that time, and its Thatcherite emasculation shifted restlessly under the newly confident veneer of New Labour’s Britain. Old thoughts about how things should be are fading, but they’re not gone, not quite, not yet.

I knew I was gay when – like most teenage boys – I started liking what they like. I didn’t fail to accept it – so I don’t want to exaggerate some story of battling self-discovery – though I wasn’t exactly happy about it. It was more of a cringing instant realisation. But what to do then?  I was a pretty fantastic liar – a master. Gay people are, were, made to be. Once the realisation took hold, the fear – it’s the fear that’s the problem – built a structure of outward deceit. Every time a mate said “don’t be such a poof” to you because you don’t fancy going out that night or some other social inadequacy worthy of the epithet, your stomach does three somersaults. Every time, for eight years. Not a day – barely an hour – went by without someone pejoratively using “gay” – mainly to mean “bad”.

Eventually, almost like a contradiction, the fear becomes standard. And this is the greatest damage – it entrenches itself, every “gay” another nail and over time it becomes normalised. This is the harm that is done to gay people: not just that I couldn’t so much as have a kiss for most of my teenage life, but how it heightens  to an irrationally high degree the perceived consequences of coming out and taking steps vital for happiness.  And so it’s not the fancying guys that makes you different, but the way fear becomes engrained into your life and sense of identity. But it does make you different.

Since then I’ve got over it. Mum was great as were my family and my friends.  I’m a student now, I’ve got a boyfriend and I’m a pretty articulate debater at one of the finest student unions in the world, the Glasgow University Union. Even this institution, once a bastion of homophobia and misogyny, has gotten over it. I have had some decent internships and my life is on track. But I’m different.  Still different.

If I walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand, you can feel the stares. You can see the occasionally hilarious, internal struggle between courtesy and curiosity – they normally settle for a backward glance. And it’s not just the simple rarity of it that causes attention, it’s the perceived peculiarity. The difference.

I recently went to the retirement party for a professor who was incredibly popular amongst the students and staff. He had announced his civil partnership to the dept and was congratulated, a “well done!” and all such pleasantries. But something he noticed and they didn’t was that no whip round for a present or a card for him and his partner. Whip rounds were always done for marriages, but not for civil partnerships, even in a philosophy department, a high altar of university liberalism. It was a definite, subtle, social difference, albeit an unconscious one.

The problem isn’t that he didn’t get some money or a present in celebration of his partnership, but the problem is the pervasive and powerful idea of that his civil partnership was different to a heterosexual marriage. The power of this difference holds even more sway outside of cushy green tea-sipping philosophy Narnias. It is this same notion that suffocates the life of gay teenagers. It is this which makes gay twenty-somethings feel awkward to hold hands whilst shopping, that means the 30 year olds feel their work colleagues and friends aren’t as invested in their personal happiness as they are in each other’s. It affects happiness. Maybe it’s a nebulous, uncertain currency for a government to have to deal in, but it’s real.

Marriage is the social benchmark of acceptance. It’s special in society – a condition that the state grants privileges to, that families celebrate and that reeks of social approval – it validates relationships. That same validation should be offered to the love between two men or two women: it will go a long way to breaking down the difference that I have described. This is why marriage for gay couples, not just civil partnerships, is necessary.

If the content of my relationship is worthy enough that we wish to formalise it in the form of civil partnerships, then why cannot it be fully validated in the form of marriage? Why must it be categorically dismissed as not a marriage on factors irrelevant to its individual nature, success or social usefulness?

Religious organisations may feel threatened, their sacraments diluted But just like they should not be able to determine the divorce laws of members of another religion or denomination why should they determine the rules that govern the relationships between gay couples, of another religion, or none at all? It is not discrimination to deny these churches the right to define the social and legal institutions of those who do not adhere to their faith.

The Scottish Government has the power and a mandate to make tens of thousands of its citizens’ lives happier. It should use that power now.”

John McKee is the current President of the Scottish Student’s Debating Council, the overarching body for Scotland’s student debating societies. He is also a Labour activist, a member of Glasgow Central CLP, and sits on the Glasgow Uni Labour Club committee as its LGBT officer.

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30 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Nicola Sturgeon

  1. A very good and moving account of the difficulties gays have had, and still do. Nicola, if you’re reading this, get cracking!!

  2. I do not support Church Marriage for Gays, I accept your right to have all the benefits of a partnership but Marriage is a religious ceremony for a man & a woman, full stop. That is my opinion and I will vote that way if asked.

    1. You don’t have to support Church marriage for gay people. But don’t you know that the majority of people no longer get married in church? For the majority of Scots marriage is not a religious ceremony at all. I presume you have no objection to same sex couples being able to get married in a civil ceremony, or in a religious setting if that particular denomination is happy to marry same sex couples? Some are.

  3. Beautifully written from the heart account of some of the problems which society has laid on homosexuals.

    I’ve read the proposals in the consultative document and I agree that it’s not reasonable to try to force a religious organisation to solemnise marriages that their church disapproves of (although the Church of England managed to do that for the marriage of Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles).

    Individual churches already have the right not to marry people who do not fit their criteria (divorced, or sometimes of another faith), but other churches will do it. A catholic friend who wanted to marry a divorced woman was obliged to marry in Unitarian church of which neither was a member).

    I too call on Nicola Sturgeon to do the right thing here and treat people equally. Homosexuals pay taxes too. Why should they be denied a legal protection that the state confers on others.

  4. @Frustrated Socialist

    The problem is that marriage is, by definition, not just a religious ceremony. It is a legal one. This letter is not addressed to the head of any church, but to one of the heads of a government.

    Legal recognition of marriage needs to stop being conflated with religious recognition. It’s not complicated.

  5. John, so what you are saying in essence, is that because homosexual behaviour is frowned upon in society (since otherwise there would be no fear) you want to thrust upon society the moralistic view that not only is it acceptable but should be actively recognised as the same as a heterosexual relationship?

    The problem of course comes to the fact that they are not the same and never can be. The purpose of marriage is to create stable relationships in order to raise children. Homosexual marriages cannot be defined as such due to the fact that they cannot physically reproduce.

    You are welcome to practise your homosexual relationship of course, but trying to enforce your worldview onto society that still disapproves of “openly gay” couples seems rather extreme.

    Not only that, but once you start down this road, why stop at gay marriages? what about polygamy? or incestuous relations? You would have no basis to stop these – And then I would hope you will fix the problem that will occur no doubt of churches refusing to have these marriages in them and being taken to court?

    1. The last poll carried out on what the Scottish people thought about giving homosexuals the right to marry found over 60% in favour. How does that reflect on your claim that society “still disapproves” of gay marriage?

      Thankfully, people with your worldview are in the ever-shrinking minority and are becoming more irrelevant with every passing year. I am proud that the Scottish Government is introducing legislation to equalise the institution of marriage, whatever your sexuality, and I fully endorse John’s call for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to remain courageous and not be browbeaten by the outdated ramblings of those who remain hopelessly prejudiced in their outlook.

      1. Maybe the views I hold are a minority, but the author wrote that he was in fear due to stigma from his mates. I implied from that, that there are a majority of people who frown at the lifestyle that he chose. As I said though, I’m all for homosexuals practising their desires if they want to.

        You failed to address the logical continuation of the law however which really was my main point (even if it didn’t come across that way) which was to legalise incestuous relationships as well as polygamy. Or why not beastiality for that matter (as long as the animal consents?)

        I would have thought that since the legal framework for the “civil partnership” is identical to marriage that you would allow the religious groups to carry on disapproving of your behaviour (since they deem it sinful) while still enjoying the legal benefits that the partnership brings. In demanding the same word and rights as a marriage, you seem to be inviting a battle rather than allowing the compromise and moving on. It seems that you want equality for the “gay rights movement” yet refuse the same sort of equality for religions.

        1. These kinds of arguments are silly as well as offensive.

          It’s a bit like saying that if we give women the vote why not also give the vote to children or horses.

          People made those kinds of arguments against universal suffrage you know. The idea that women should be able to vote was regarded as preposterous by many people who had plenty of biblical references to back up their arguments. And they also had history on their side. Women had never been allowed to vote. The institution of voting was clearly designed for men to exercise their natural authority. The very idea of allowing women to vote ran the risk of undermining the whole of society. Etc etc. Sound familiar?

          Yet today those kinds of arguments sound completely bonkers don’t they?

          1. Horses – can’t physically vote
            Children – Don’t pay tax therefore do not require voting rights – I’d argue 16 year olds should be able to vote.

            Whereas you refuse to allow polygamy on the basis that you don’t agree with it! Or Incestuous relationships. You have pretty scarce arguments to deny these people “marriage” once you allow homosexuals “marriage”. I’m not suggesting that you cannot be gay, or have a homosexual relationship. Nor would I deny you the right to have some sort of ceremony to commit your lives together, yet to take the word “marriage” confuses the issue. Maybe the response should be for christians to rename their “marriage” to “covenant” and leave it at that? Or would you then want to be able to have a “covenant” to be equal again??

    2. “The purpose of marriage is to create stable relationships in order to raise children.”

      Really? I thought children were optional.

      1. What other purpose would marriage serve?

        Yes, they are optional. Yet you want a relationship that cannot be used for propagation to have the same rights as one that can and is used for propagation providing the best scenario for raising a new generation?

        In essence, governments should only be interested in marriage for the benefit of the (possible) children, not for the benefit of “love” or anything else. Therefore homosexual relationships hold no interest to the state whereas heterosexual relationships do as they can and do produce children.

        1. Devyn: (I have a comment in mtooradien).Devyn: Durn it, you first brought up abortion. And you asserted it had no long term negative effects. I’m saying that 40 million abortions since 1972 did have an effect on creating a vacuum due to those 40 million people not being here. The absence of 40 million people who would have otherwise entered the workforce, created a vacuum that has been partially filled by immigrants, legal and illegal. Well, not all 40 million would be in the workforce now, but all those aborted prior to 1987 would have been.It didn’t just shrink the population across all age groups, it wiped out the babies, and changed our population pyramid to more of a tower or obelisk. I believe it did create a demand, because the older generations kept chugging along, and there weren’t enough young up-and-comers to fill the entry-level positions created.Abortion had long term consequences in terms of numbers/demographics, in addition to changing attitudes about the sancity of life. So I’m countering your assertion that abortion had no long term effects.Your assertion that there’s high crime among the poor regardless of ethnicity is also misleading if not outright incorrect. Culture/Ethnicity (not just ethnicity alone and not just poverty alone) factors in a big part of crime stats even when you hold economic status constant. The crime rates during the Great Depression were nothing like what started in the 1960 s, so poverty per se doesn’t cause crime.The illegal Hispanic demographic has higher violent crime rates than any other demographic, even when comparing equal economic status. The fact is that by letting in all the good hard-working Hispanics who’re just looking for work to support their family, the unintended consequence of it being _uncontrolled_ immigration is that many criminals and predators (pimps, drug dealers, thugs, rapists, murderers) took the same opportunities and crossed the border with them. And the criminals were able to do so precisely because there were no controls.It all illustrates unintended consequences of when too many people refuse to admit there were reasons for things like laws and social conventions, and they do away with those laws and social conventions saying don’t worry, nothing will happen . Well, they’ve often been wrong so far.This is all a prelude to trying to open people’s minds to consider the consequences of normalizing SSM and removing society’s taboo against homosexuality. My comment in mtooradien goes into more of the linkage between societal approval of homosexuality and a greater percentage of marginal’ people then choosing homosexuality. The belief that homosexuality is totally in-born and only in-born will not be universally true under a new paradigm where society removes the barriers (stigmas, homophobia, etc) that keep in check some people who are on the edge about their own sexual orientation.Having known cases where childhood sexual abuse or recruitment/grooming seemed to guide some impressionable or soft-coded (in terms of sexual-orientation) people towards homosexuality, I’m not subscribed to the idea that homosexuality is totally genetic or in-born. Society’s approval (via SSM, and the attending curriculum changes in schools) will really open the doors for that segment of the homosexual community that does recruit/groom.So not only have you bought into unproven assumptions about the origens/causes of homosexuality, you’re also ignoring past illustrations (such as abortion and illegitimacy) of the unintended consequences of social re-engineering via removal of long-held social stigmas.I do not look forward to the world that SSM proponents want to bring about. They are the same team that brought us no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, and removed the stigma of out-of-wedlock births.

    3. I think what John is actually saying is that gay relationships have been frowned upon by society – but they are no longer frowned upon by most people.

      Societal attitudes towards same sex relationships have changed hugely in the past few decades and are still in the process of changing.

      Fifty years ago two men walking down the street holding hands would have been in danger of being arrested.

      Thirty years ago they would have been in danger of being physically attacked.

      Today they may attract curiosity.

      I think most of us would like to think than in future no-one will even notice.

    4. Geoff,#14,I agree to a point that opponents of gay aamrirge lack the data they need to show that gay aamrirge (or things like no-fault divorces) damage our society. That is a real problem.maybe God shouldn’t have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah so quickly we might have had a good test case there. :)The Netherlands was the first place to legalize same sex aamrirges in 2001. That gives us eight years of study so far. Personally, I haven’t really cared that much about this issue (because it really doesn’t threaten my way of life in any way shape or form). From what I gather of Europe (and granted I haven’t been there since 2004), The Netherlands are doing pretty alright right now. Here’s the problem that Christians (since it is mostly Christian religions against gay aamrirge) have. They tie the issue of gay aamrirge to a destruction of society (a la Sodom). But when that destruction does not appear, it makes the argument look silly. Heck, even, say, plagues or economic collapses, or foreign invasions, or something. The question for the modern day is, why doesn’t God do what he did in the past to societies that reject his counsel? Because what happens the moment Godly punishment doesn’t come, those who reject God’s counsel will come to the conclusion that their actions are not sinful and can be continued, because they are natural. I see the tipping point being the killing of Matthew Sheppard. A young man killed by Christian boys because he was gay. I think that action was more powerful than any legislation for or against. It showed Christians as being bigoted and murderous. That’s the first climax. That’s the tipping point, in my humble opinion. I think that Christian faiths need to refocus their efforts on training their lay members to really be Christian. Our prophets and apostles do this. Every General Conference they focus on how we can be more Christ-like. I don’t think many other denominations focus as much as they need to on the Savior, ironically. Take Pastor Parsley. The dude can’t shut up about Muslims! Take the hypocritical Ted Haggard, ironically bashing on gays. A true follower of Christ would show love toward a person with homosexual tendencies, not shun them. Christ taught us that His church is a hospital for the sick and afflicted. The way we view homosexuality, our faith is the perfect place for homosexuals, in theory at least. What I’m getting at, a lot of the losses Christianity has incurred on such issues as abortion or gay aamrirge is self inflicted. We picked the wrong battles, didn’t really think it through. Didn’t seem to occur to us how cut off from Christ we made such people feel. And then we were surprised when they rejected our version of Christ and how we interpret His teachings.

  6. @Frustrated Socialist: That should be a matter for the individual churches to decide. Or do you speak for all of Scotland’s churches, synagogues, mosques…?

  7. Cheers Alex!

    OK “Frustrated Socialist”, since I like a bit of debate I’ll bite – I’ll agree marriage can be a religious ceremony. So what do you say to the Episcopalians who believe that marriage is as much a religious duty for gay people as straight people? That “my Church says it isn’t”?

  8. ”John, so what you are saying in essence, is that because homosexual behaviour is frowned upon in society (since otherwise there would be no fear) you want to thrust upon society the moralistic view that not only is it acceptable but should be actively recognised as the same as a heterosexual relationship?”

    1. Homosexuality is no longer frowned upon by the majority of people in society. The recent Scottish social attitudes survey showed that 61% of people support same sex marriage. John made it quite clear that some of his earlier experiences may have related to where he was brought up, I am of the view that enabling same sex marriage (the last legal discrimination on statute against homosexuals) will help the process of enlightening communities where there is still perhaps some prejudice.

    2. The view that being homosexual is morally equal to being heterosexual was accepted by society when homosexuality was decriminalised. In any case to apply morality to a state of being which is an accident of birth is a logical fallacy. It is no more immoral to be a homosexual than to be a woman or a black man.

    3. Marriage means many things & is not a static thing, it has changed a great deal over the centuries & within different cultures takes different formats. Those people who think Leviticus invented marriage, as between man & woman & for the purpose of procreation can still take that view. Nobody is infringing on their rights to believe & worship as they like. However they have no right to impose their views on people, the majority, who do not accept their personal belief.

    4. Society has an obligation to regulate marriage for obvious reasons, i.e. we really don’t want brothers & sisters marrying each other, forced marriage, bigamy, marriage for the purpose of fraud etc. Outwith the necessity to regulate marriage for these reasons it is not the state’s business to stick its nose into people’s personal lives. Marriage should be available to couples regardless of their geneder, as indeed should civil partnerships which heterosexual couples should have access to.

    5. For possibly the only time in my life I agreed with David Cameron when he said:

    ”I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

    6. No religious institution will be forced to perform same sex weddings if that is not compatible with their theology. However, there are religious institutions which do want to perform same sex weddings, & they are currently prevented from doing that by an arcane law. That law should be removed to allow freedom of worship. Whether churches decide that same sex marriage is compatible with scripture should be for them to determine, not the law.

    To me it is inconceivable that the SNP will fail to support the calls for same sex equality in marriage (I also hope they will extend the right to hold civil partnerships to heterosexuals).

    It is also nice to see so much agreement between cybernats & cyberlabourites. This is something that the vast majority of us appear to agree with. it will be a proud day for Scotland when this happens, & we all need something to cheer us up.

    1. An interesting and well reasoned response!

      On your second point I agree. “it is no immoral to be a homosexual than to be a woman or a black man” or in fact a heterosexual – it is not the orientation that is immoral but the sexual relations outside of marriage (including heterosexuals). By arguing for “marriage” you will end up with enforcing the church to become “anti-gay” in the sense that they will still see homosexual relations as immoral even inside a marriage rather than being able to stick with being “anti-promiscuity”. Maybe that’s just something that the church will have to deal with…

      On the third point, if you have marriage but don’t call it marriage, churches generally have compromised (surely a marriage by any other name is still a marriage?). Yet to seek to also have the same name seems to try to push the issue (but I understand why you want to given point 1). On a side, it is in Genesis (2:24) that the man/woman is defined.

      Point 4 – why not allow brother and sister marry? surely if they both consent then they should be allowed? You wouldn’t deny them their love of each other would you? And what’s wrong with bigamy? What of bi-sexuals? Are they not to be allowed to marry one of each gender? You state that we don’t want these, but what is your argument against?

      5. Why should the state be interested in relationships? It makes no difference whether you live together, or live separately. The only reason they should have an interest is where children are concerned. Then the state should persuade the couple to commit to one another as it is beneficial to the child.

      6. Really? You think that will last? As can be seen in other areas where the rights of one group clash with another, it is the minority that wins. There are militant gays who will seek to annoy the church by demanding their “right” to be wed in a church. The state could legislate to uphold this, although I see it as something that will not stand up and will cause yet more societal upheaval.

      Personally, I’d rather the state removed itself from all marriages then produce more legislation. Then all would be happy. I’d have my religious ceremony, others would have their vow of commitment.

  9. Interesting, and I sympathise, but why is this an open letter to Nicola Sturgeon in person?

    1. Because she is the minister in charge.

      On that note I would say to everyone remember to actually respond to the consultation if you haven’t already done so because it closes quite soon and it’s important that everyone who supports legalising same sex marriage makes that known.

    2. Sturgeon has taken responsability for heading the consultation which is due to close soon.

  10. Great post John, and I have to say I had a twinge of regret at reading you recount your experiences in Greenock, wondering if I myself might have been as thoughtless as to use such pejorative language in ignorace. Rest assured, I fully support your call for equalisation of the right to marry.

    And, for what it’s worth, it’s prose like this that makes the difference. Write well about something important and people are doubly impressed.

  11. At the danger of being accused of being a religious bigot, I would like to re-emphasize the point that practising homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of all the major religions. This is absolute and fundamental, irrespective of what the Episcopals have agreed so why push for a religious component to the concept of civil marriage. Giving Scotland its freedom is much more important than making a point on behalf of a small minority who wish to subvert everything to their view of the world.

    1. Lots of things are a sin in the eyes of God but people can still legally do them. We are not talking about God’s laws here but secular laws.

      The state is the only body that can legally marry people and so it is for the state to decide who can get married. At the moment same sex couples cannot get married at all – whether in a civil or religious ceremony. That is what this consultation is actually about, allowing people to get married at all.

      If churches don’t want to allow same sex couples to get married in their premises that’s fine – churches are completely free to choose who they will marry, they are not obliged to marry any couple that they don’t want to marry and that won’t change since churches are private institutions, not public institutions. And most people don’t get married in church anyway.

      I find it a bit frustrating that everyone seems so obsessed with the religious aspect of this. Most same sex couples won’t get married in church, just as most mixed sex couples don’t get married in church. So why do so many people seem to think this is all about religious ceremonies? Is it just because they were married in a church and therefore assume that everyone else was? If that’s what they think they are mistaken.

      Do you know, for example, that there were more weddings conducted by Humanist celebrants last year than there were conducted by the RC Church? And the Humanists would be more than happy to conduct weddings for same sex couples. So why shouldn’t they be able to?

  12. I’m an SNP supporter (and a fellow Greenockian) but I could not agree more with this article. Brilliantly written, and I hope the Scottish Government sit up and take notice. The time has come for equality.

  13. This is great.

    A fine, well written article and an excellent debate.

    Well done Labour Hame.

    Here’s my (aged) tanner’s worth.

    Morality is bunk (nonsense, havers, blethers, add your own alternative)

    Morality is a human construct – we made it up. I see no signs in the universe that say that there is anything that is intrinsically right or wrong.

    Och, haud on, you say, does that mean I can dae anythin I like – well, YES YOU CAN (providing of course that your abilities allow – but even then YOU CAN dream about scoring the winning goal in the world cup for a team of your choice). Some doom sayers above have mentioned the dreaded incest and other unmentionable acts as evidence of unquestionable wrongness and thus implying unquestionable rightness.

    It is arguable that unquestionable rightness has led to more nastinesses (sic) than people who know they are right would care to admit.

    So does that mean I APPROVE of everything – have a guess.

  14. Well, like the Church tells us, god created all men (and women) so he must have created gay people aswell.
    Dont see how the Church can reject marriage amongst Gays!?

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