LGBT rights in Scotland

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LGBT rights in Scotland
Scotland in the UK and Europe.svg
Scotland (dark green) within the United Kingdom (light green)
Same-sex sexual activity legal status Legal since 1981, age of consent equalised since 2001
Gender identity/expression Right to change legal gender since 2004
Military service LGBT people allowed to serve openly since 2000
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation and gender identity protections
Family rights
Recognition of
Same-sex marriage from 16 December 2014
Civil partnerships since 2005
Adoption Joint and stepchild adoption since 2009

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Scotland are generally in line with the rest of the United Kingdom, which have evolved extensively over time and are now regarded some of the most progressive in Europe. In both 2015 and 2016 Scotland was recognised as the "best country in Europe for LGBTI legal equality".[1][2]

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1981 and the age of consent has been equal to that for opposite-sex activity since 2001. Same-sex marriage was approved by Scottish Parliament in February 2014 and received royal assent on 12 March 2014. It came into effect on 16 December 2014 with civil partners converting into marriages, while the first same-sex marriage ceremonies occurred on 31 December 2014. Civil partnerships for same-sex couples have been legal since 2005. Same-sex couples have also been granted joint and step adoption since 2009 and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity have been banned since 2005.

Laws regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

The historical legal situation for male homosexuality was severe: "The common law crime of sodomy does not involve the establishment of the absence of consent on the part of the passive agent or catamite. It reflects a former general disapproval of homosexuality and both parties are guilty of the offence".[3] Recorded punishments are limited compared to purges such as Utrecht sodomy trials, whether due to lack of offending, prosecution or surviving documentation. Baron Hume wrote that "the crime is only mentioned twice in the course of our records", citing a double prosecution in 1570 and a single prosecution in 1630, with bestiality more often noted, all cases being punished by death.[4] A legal text dated 1832 added then recent case in which a man, on confession to two acts of sodomy out of nine initially charged, was transported for life.[5] However, another archive source documents an additional sample mention, the commission for trial of Gavin Bell in 1645.[6]

In 1889, Scotland became the last jurisdiction in Europe to abolish the death penalty for same-sex sexual intercourse, which reduced the penalty to life imprisonment in a penitentiary.[7][8]

The United Kingdom Parliament voted to pass the Sexual Offences Act 1967 for the limited decriminalisation of homosexual acts in only England and Wales.[9] Homosexual activities were legalised in Scotland — on the same basis as that which was used for the 1967 Act — by Section 80 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980[10], which came into force on the 1st February 1981.[11] Section 2A, the legislation that prevented the promotion of homosexuality, was repealed in Scotland within the first two years of the existence of the Scottish Parliament by the "Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000".[12]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

Same-sex marriage is legal in Scotland and the first same-sex marriages occurred on 31 December 2014.[13][14] The law provides that religious organizations and individual celebrants are under no obligation to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, though religious organizations are permitted to authorize their clergy to do so.

On 25 July 2012, the Scottish Government announced that it would legalise same-sex marriage.[15] The move was announced despite the opposition by the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland. Although Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the move as the "right thing to do", she reassured churches that they would not be forced to perform same-sex marriages.[16] During the consultation phase, ministers received over 19,000 messages from constituents about the issue.[17]

On 27 June 2013, the Scottish Government introduced the Marriage and Civil Partnerships Bill (Scotland) in the Scottish Parliament.[18][19]

On 4 February 2014, Scottish Parliament held its final, State 3 vote on a bill to permit same-sex marriages. The bill passed by a vote 108-15 and received royal assent on 12 March 2014.[20] The UK Parliament had already agreed to make necessary amendments to the UK Equality Act 2010 if the Scottish Parliament enacted same-sex marriage legislation, so as to allow certain religious and faith organisations to be exempted from having to conduct, or be involved in same-sex marriage if it contravenes their beliefs, as is also provided in the Scottish bill.[21] The first same-sex weddings occurred on 31 December 2014, though civil partnerships could be exchanged for marriage certificates from 16 December 2014 so the very first same sex marriages under Scottish law were recognised from that day.[22]

In June 2017, the Scottish Episcopal Church also approved of gay marriage within church canon law. This change only effects the Episcopal Churches within Scotland and not other religions or demoninations of other churches.[23]

Civil partnerships[edit]

Civil partnerships have been a right of same-sex couples in Scotland to access since 2005, when the UK Parliament passed the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The Act gives same-sex couples most (but not all) of the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.[24] Civil partners are entitled to the same property rights as married opposite-sex couples, the same exemption as married couples on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits, and also the ability to get parental responsibility for a partner's children,[25] as well as responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one's partner and their children, tenancy rights, full life insurance recognition, next of kin rights in hospitals, and others. There is a formal process for dissolving partnerships akin to divorce.

The legalisation of same-sex marriage in Scotland has had several notable impacts on legislation relating to Scottish civil partnerships. Though the Scottish Government has yet to decide whether or not to open civil partnerships to mixed sex couples, the Government has elected to introduce:[20]

  • Possible tests for religious and belief bodies to meet when solemnising marriages or registering civil partnerships, in light of increasing concerns over sham and forced marriages.
  • Religious and belief ceremonies to register civil partnerships.

Since November 2015, civil partnerships originating elsewhere in the United Kingdom other than Scotland (including Northern Ireland) can be converted to a marriage without the couple being forced to dissolve the civil partnership.[26]

Adoption and parenting rights[edit]

Effective on 28 September 2009, approved legislation allowed same-sex couples to adopt children in Scotland.[27][28] At the same time, the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009[29] came into effect, which allows same-sex couples to be considered as foster parents on the same basis as anyone else.[30]

The legal position regarding co-parenting arrangements where a gay man/couple donates sperm to a lesbian couple is complex. Following the changes implemented by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, lesbian couples who conceive with donated sperm are likely to be treated as both being the parents of their child. If the lesbian couple a man is donating to are civil partners/married, the father’s status will be automatically excluded. If the lesbian couple he is donating to are not civil partners/married, the mothers may be able to choose whether they wish the child’s second parent to be the father or the non-birth mother.[31]

Altruistic surrogacy is legal in the United Kingdom, including Scotland. The law supports gay fathers conceiving through surrogacy in the UK in the same way as it does heterosexual couples and allows for applications to the relevant court, for such parents who wish to be named on their child's birth certificate as the legal parents/guardians of the child.[32]

Discrimination protections[edit]

The passage of the Equality Act 2010 by the Parliament of the United Kingdom directly impacted on Scotland. Since implementation, the Act has covered gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, sex, and sexual orientation among a host of other attributes. The Act outlaws discrimination, harassment and victimisation of another person because they belong to a group that the Act protects, are thought to belong to one of those groups or are associated with someone who does.[33]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1981)
Homosexuals allowed to serve in the military Yes (Since 2000)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2001)
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2004)
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Since 2005)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2009)
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2009)
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes (Since 2009)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2010)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2010)
Anti-discrimination laws in hate violence Yes (Since 2010)
Same-sex marriage(s) Yes (Since 2014)
Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity No
Anti-discrimination laws in hate speeches No
Conversion therapy on LGBT minors outlawed No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes/No (1 year deferral required)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Scotland named best country in Europe for LGBTI legal equality". STV News. 10 May 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Scotland tops in Europe for gay equality and human rights". The Scotsman. 10 May 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2016. 
  3. ^ "Opinion of the Court". 9 March 2010. Archived from the original on 6 April 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "The Scottish Law against Sodomy". Ric Norton. 13 May 2008. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  5. ^ Alison, Archibald. Principles of the Criminal Law of Scotland, (1832). p. 566.
  6. ^ "Click here for details". Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Hirschfeld, Magnus. "The Homosexuality of Men and Women". Prometheus Books – via Google Books. 
  8. ^ "Homosexuality in Great Britain Section Two: Legislation". 
  9. ^ "Sexual Offences Act 1967". Crown. 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  10. ^ "Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980". Crown. 1980. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE (SCOTLAND)ACT 1980 (Hansard, 17 December 1980)". Retrieved 2017-09-04. 
  12. ^ "Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000". Crown. 2000. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  13. ^ "First same-sex weddings take place in Scotland". BBC News. 31 December 2014. 
  14. ^ "Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage". LGBTQ Nation. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  15. ^ "Gay marriage to be introduced in Scotland". BBC News. 25 July 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2012. 
  16. ^ Bussey, Katrine; Duncanson, Hilary (25 July 2012). "Scotland's gay marriage law to progress". The Independent. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  17. ^ "Ministers contacted over gay marriage more than Scottish independence referendum". The Scotsman. 11 May 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  18. ^ "Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill". Scottish Parliament. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  19. ^ "Bill published to make same-sex marriage legal in Scotland". PinkNews. 27 June 2013. 
  20. ^ a b "Scotland's same-sex marriage bill is passed". BBC News. 4 February 2014. 
  21. ^ "Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill - statement on the Equality Act 2010". Scottish Government. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  22. ^ Senzee, Thom (16 December 2014). "Scotland's Marriage Equality Starts Today". The Advocate. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  23. ^ "Scottish Episcopal Church approves gay marriage". 8 June 2017 – via 
  24. ^ "Lesbians lose legal marriage bid". BBC News online. BBC. 31 July 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  25. ^ "Gay couples to get joint rights". BBC News. 31 March 2004. Retrieved 14 May 2006. 
  26. ^ "Scotland throws a lifeline to Northern Irish same-sex couples". Pink News. 3 November 2015. 
  27. ^ "Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007". Crown. 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  28. ^ "New legislation sees gay Scottish couples win right to adopt children". Sunday Herald. 20 September 2009. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  29. ^ "The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009". Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  30. ^ "Adoption and Fostering in Scotland". Stonewall Scotland. 28 September 2009. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  31. ^ "Co-parenting". Stonewall Scotland. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  32. ^ "Surrogacy for gay dads". Natalie Gamble Associates. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  33. ^ "Discrimination protections for LGBT's in Scotland overview". Retrieved 4 February 2014. 

External links[edit]