Holyrood denies gay marriage rift

The Scottish government denied yesterday that a major rift had developed between politicians and leaders of the Catholic Church, who felt their views were being "continually ignored" over gay marriage.

An impasse has been reached after the government announced plans to legalise same-sex marriage.

In a letter to Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scotland's Catholics, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, asked for any future debate between the church and government to be dealt with by officials.

His spokesman, Peter Kearney, said yesterday that while the cardinal wanted to maintain a dialogue, the relationship remained "strained" because of a deep disappointment that all the church's concerns were being "continually ignored".

But yesterday the government said that Cardinal O'Brien and First Minister Alex Salmond had an "entirely amicable" conversation on Saturday, in which the issue of gay marriage had been discussed.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Salmond said personal relations between the two men were "extremely good". He added: "It is inevitable government ministers will not always agree with church leaders – this is an honest disagreement about an important policy issue, and we have the utmost respect for the different views expressed in the debate."

Recently Ms Sturgeon announced the government would bring forward a bill which could see same-sex marriages take place at the start of 2015.

Despite the Holyrood administration's insistence that religious freedom would be protected, the church reacted by describing the move as "dangerous social experiment on a massive scale".

Nearly two-thirds of people in Scotland who responded to a consultation on same-sex marriage said they are against the change and many religious groups, including the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, are bitterly opposed to it.

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