The Scottish Government plans to bring forward legislation allowing same-sex marriage
Legalising gay marriage is the "right thing to do", Scotland's Deputy First Minister has said as she announced that the Scottish Government will introduce legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Nicola Sturgeon said they would bring forward a Bill which could see the first same-sex marriages take place at the start of 2015.
While the Holyrood administration insists that protections will be included in the new law to ensure churches, and individuals within them, do not have to conduct same-sex marriages if they do not agree with them, many religious leaders hit out at the decision.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "The Scottish Government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale."
Campaign group Scotland For Marriage condemned the "ill-conceived and poorly thought-out" plans which are being brought in "with no consideration for the views of the vast majority in the country".
On the other hand, the decision, announced after almost 80,000 people responded to a Scottish Government consultation, was hailed by equality campaigners as "a proud day for Scotland".
While the UK Government has also carried out a consultation on same-sex marriage, it has yet to publish the result. But the proposals for England and Wales, backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, envisage same-sex civil-marriage ceremonies in a registry office or approved premises, and no change to religious marriages.
Under the Scottish Government proposals, same-sex couples can have a religious wedding. Ms Sturgeon stressed that commitments the Scottish Government has already given, that no church and no religious celebrant would be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages, will be honoured in full.
"It is the intention of the Scottish Government to bring forward legislation to legalise same-sex marriage. 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," she said.
"However, we recognise and respect the concerns that some people have expressed, in particular the concerns that have been expressed by the churches, and we're determined the legislation we bring forward will be accompanied by protection for freedom of speech and freedom of religion."