Today is World Humanist Day

Today is World Humanist Day, a day of celebration set up in the 1990s. Humanism is not a religion. It is a world view based on secular values, common to any person regardless of nationality, race, culture, sexuality, gender or background. Its ethos is captured in the phrase – nothing to die for, everything to live for.

Humanism is growing across the world and often people lead a humanist life without realising it. The Guardian reported last month that, for the first time, in England and Wales those who identify as non-religious now outnumber Christians.

Sadly, many people still suffer stigma and discrimination for rejecting religion. In some countries atheism is illegal with secularists abused and killed for their lack of belief. Even in more moderate nations like the UK it can still be very difficult for atheists to ‘come out’ for fear of rejection by religious family members or colleagues.

Humanism looks to build a more humane society based on ethical values in a spirit of equality, enquiry and human achievement. Answers are found through science and human rendezvous not the supernatural. At its heart is the recognition that we get one life and everyone should be able to live it in peace.

So all of us atheists are humanists I presume whether we realise it or not. I have been an atheist for 40 years now and should you want to find out more about how one man lost his religion try reading Ludovic Kennedy’s book All in the Mind: A farewell to God.

Scottish Parliament backs equal marriage – A very Liberal thing to do.

There were many celebrations across Scotland as the Holyrood parliament passed its same sex marriage bill by a margin of 105-18. All Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs voted in favour.The honour of speaking for the Lib Dems on this occasion was MSP Jim Hume. This is what he said:

Fairness and equality runs through the veins of every true Liberal Democrat I know. We want Scotland to be one of the fairest and most equal places in the world. That’s why we support legislation enabling gay, transgender and lesbian couples to marry. When MSPs met to debate the Bill at stage 2 last November, Scottish Liberal Democrats were pleased to have had the opportunity to vote in favour and we remain supportive of the Bill today during its final stage.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill demonstrates that our society values every person equally irrespective of their sexuality, and that we regard every relationship as worthy of equal recognition. If two people in a loving relationship want to formalise that through a religious or civil marriage ceremony, then they shouldn’t be prevented from doing so. In other words, there should be no differentiation between what’s available to same or mixed sex couples.

I strongly believe that that sense of fairness and equality also runs deep in the psyche of every Scot, and indeed, that view has been reflected in the emails and letters I’ve received over the last few months

Key to this whole debate has been the issue of respect for everyone’s opinions and getting the balance right.

I think the Bill as it stood at Stage 2 struck a good balance. It was recognised that in voting to uphold the intention of the Bill to allow for equal marriage, it’s also important to respect the rights of individuals and faith organisations not to carry out same-sex marriages if they don’t wish to. Liberal Democrats believe that the stage 2 amendments acknowledged that balance.

As a Liberal Democrat and someone who was brought up in a household of good church goers with a mother who broke another mould by becoming the first women elder in the parish, I believe it’s important to do the right thing.

Inequality is a form of oppression and can manifest itself in many different forms and to varying degrees. Some are more subtle than others. It’s true that society has come a long way in terms of gay rights and equality issues. But I don’t buy the argument that gay people should be happy with what they have, as though they’ve been given special concessions up until now.

The idea that a gay couple should have no legal right to a religious or civil marriage ceremony makes the massive assumption that marriage doesn’t apply to you; that you cannot express your religious view or commitment to marriage if you’re in a same sex relationship. Taking that a step further, preventing same sex couples from marrying is preventing a section of the population from expressing their marriage beliefs and this in my view represents a subtle and creeping oppression that should not exist in a civilised society.

Religious affiliation and sexual orientation are not mutually exclusive to one another.

Indeed, 19th century business woman, Anne Lister, whose diaries discovered after her death revealed much about her private life, said it best when she wrote of her sexuality, “this is my nature. To act in opposition to my nature would be more wrong for me than to be a married woman. I am living my life with the nature that God gave me. It is perfectly ok”.

As an aside, it’s interesting that Anne Lister should primarily be remembered for being the so called “first modern lesbian”. In fact, she is arguably a role model for women and men to this day – she was an independent business woman in her own right and became one of the first women to climb the Pyrenees. She lived her life her way – with the nature God gave her.

Perhaps that interest in her love life says something about the preoccupation we still have as a society today about sexual orientation.

Presiding Officer, in passing this legislation today, we’re making the proud statement that we’re not content to isolate a section of our diverse community.

We’re not giving preferential treatment to any one group.

We’re simply saying that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the same rights. Anything less, is inhumane.

Extending equality of marriage in Scotland is something that Scottish Liberal Democrats are very proud to stand up for. There can be no excuse for isolating a section of the population for any reason – whether that’s on the basis of religious affiliation, skin colour or gender – and for that reason, Scottish Liberal Democrats are proud to support the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill through its final stage today.

And in doing so recognise the many constituents who have contacted me supporting this Bill, also recognise the positive campaign, both by Stonewall and the Equality Network, in particular throughout this debate. As well as Alex Neil for his determination to bring this legislation to this Parliament, and for his meetings he has held with myself and others to ensure Scotland is seen as a leading light for Equality. I look forward to voting for this historic Bill at decision time today.