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Scotland to allow gay marriage
Scotland could be the first part of the UK to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government plans to bring forward legislation which would permit it.
The controversial issue has been backed by politicians from all the main parties north of the border, as well as equality campaigners, but has attracted fierce criticism from some religious organisations.
Ms Sturgeon said: "We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal, and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe this is the right thing to do."
The decision comes after almost 80,000 people responded to a Scottish Government consultation on the issue.
The UK Government has also put forward proposals to bring in same-sex marriage, which it supports, but ministers are waiting until the end of a consultation before making a decision on the matter.
The legislation will be accompanied by "important protections" for freedom of speech and religion, ministers said.
No religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages, they confirmed, adding that protection for religious bodies which do not wish to conduct such ceremonies already exists under UK equality law.
The Scottish Government said that where a body does decide to conduct same-sex marriages, it intends to protect individual celebrants who consider such ceremonies to be contrary to their faith. Such a stance is in line with the view expressed in the consultation, it was claimed.
The SNP administration at Holyrood said that to give certainty around this protection, it considers that an amendment to the UK Equality Act is required. The Scottish Government said it will work with the UK Government to get an agreement on such an amendment before the a Bill is formally introduced to the Scottish Parliament, with a view to it being in place before the Bill comes into force.