THE prospect of same-sex marriages has been welcomed by a Highland support group for gay people - which has moved to allay fears local churches could be forced to carry out ceremonies.
The Scottish Government had been expected to announce its formal support for marriages between gay people yesterday but surprisingly held off a decision on the controversial issue.
Instead a minister-led committee will finalise plans for legislation and work out legal obstacles, ahead of any bill being introduced into the Scottish Parliament.
The government batted off calls for a national referendum and is still expected to endorse its support for the proposal, with First Minister Alex Salmond also in favour.
It comes after a lengthy public consultation which attracted 80,000 responses and many of them were sent from denominations including the Roman Catholic community and Church Scotland angry at the proposal.
Despite government assurances, they fear clergy could be forced to marry couples in churches because any refusal to allow services could be possibly challenged under European human rights law.
Joanne Mackenzie-Winters, secretary of the Highland Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Transgender Forum, said gay people had been treated as second-class citizens for too long.
“We’re pleased that a clear majority of MSPs have already indicated their intention to vote for equal marriage and are sure the Scottish Government will take a stance that ensures all Scotland’s people become equal in this respect,” said.
But she stressed the forum would not try and press Highland churches into holding same-sex marriages.
“We understand that further consultation will be required for any draft legislation and as a charity we accept that churches and religious organisations should not be forced into something against their beliefs,” she added.
Earlier this month the forum said it would invite religious denominations for face-to-to talks on the prospect of same sex marriage.
Gay couples are currently restricted to civil partnerships which offer similar rights as marriage including life assurances, child maintenance and next of kin.
There were 15 civil partnerships in the Highlands last year.
But pressure groups have campaigned for some time to allow same-sex marriages claiming it would give equal status.
We spoke to a cross-section of people in Ross-shire over the issue this week. Find out what they think in this week's Ross-shire Journal.