SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes has denied her campaign has been derailed by comments on gay marriage.
Some key backers of the finance secretary have withdrawn their support after she said she would have voted against equal marriage laws.
Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, has also said that having children outside of marriage is “wrong” according to her faith.
She said people wanted politicians to give “straight answers”.
The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP has also said she would not seek to overturn gay marriage laws if she succeeds Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s first minister, and has apologised for any “pain” her comments have caused.
She is one of three confirmed candidates in the contest, alongside Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan, the former community safety minister who quit over the Scottish government’s gender self-identification reforms.
Scottish government ministers Richard Lochhead, Tom Arthur and Clare Haughey have withdrawn their support for Ms Forbes, as have health committee convener Gillian Martin and MP Drew Hendry.
On Tuesday Ms Sturgeon again stressed she would not be taking a side in the leadership election.
But she added: “What I will always do is be clear about my views and my values and my outlook on these things.
“And I think my views on these things accord with the views of my party – and I don’t see that changing.”
Ms Forbes said she would have voted against gay marriage in Scotland when it was made legal in 2014 because it clashed with her views as a member of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Speaking to BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland, the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP denied her campaign had been irreparably damaged by the fallout.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “We have a large party membership, most of whom are not on Twitter, and I understand that people have very strong views on these matters.
“I think the public are longing for politicians to answer straight questions with straight answers and that’s certainly what I tried to do in the media yesterday. That doesn’t necessarily allow for much nuance.”
‘Servant of democracy’
Ms Forbes who was first elected to Holyrood in 2016 and has been on maternity leave, insisted that she would not attempt to row back on the gay marriage legislation if she became first minister.
She said: “My position on these matters is I will defend to the hilt everybody’s right in a pluralistic and tolerant society to live and to love free of harassment and fear.
“And in the same way I hope that others can be afforded the rights of people of faith to practice fairly mainstream teaching. And that is the nuance that we need to capture on equal marriage.
“Equal marriages is a legal right, and as a servant of democracy, rather than a dictator, I absolutely respect and defend that democratic right.”
What is the Free Church of Scotland?
The Free Church of Scotland is an evangelical and Calvinist denomination of Christianity that believes the Bible is “God’s Word and that it should be central in all that we do”.
Its website says it has 100 local churches across Scotland, five in North America and one in London and claims to have 13,000 people attending services every week.
The church opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, with then-moderator Rev David Robertson predicting in 2015 that society would one day “look back with horror” on the “evil” of abortion in the same way that it looks back at the evils of slavery.
It has also traditionally believed in keeping Sundays as a day of worship and rest.
Ms Forbes later told Times Radio that she “she regrets enormously the pain or hurt that has been caused” by her comments on gay marriage, adding that she had not intended to do so and that “I would seek forgiveness if that is how it’s come across.”
In an interview with Sky News she said she personally believes that “sex is for marriage” and that having children outside of marriage “would be wrong according to my faith”.
However, she said it is entirely up to other people what they do, adding: “In a free society you can do what you want”.
Ms Forbes also said she believes that trans rapist Isla Bryson – who was initially sent to a women’s prison – is a man because “a rapist cannot be a woman”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly refused to answer whether she regarded Bryson as being a man or a woman, saying that “I regard the individual as a rapist”.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney later said he thought Ms Forbes’ comments would have “an effect” on her SNP leadership prospects.
He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime: “I personally don’t agree with the comments that Kate has made.”
Mr Swinney added that he had not “come to any conclusions” over which leadership candidate he would support.
LGBT group Out for Independence, which is affiliated to the SNP, said it was “incredibly disappointed with the way this leadership campaign has been conducted and the tone and language that have been adopted toward the LGBTQ+ community”.
‘I am unequivocal on this issue’
Ms Forbes made the initial comments about gay marriage on Monday, just hours after launching her campaign.
Mr Lochhead, the Scottish government minister for just transition, employment and fair work, said he could no longer back the finance secretary as a result.
He tweeted that he felt the SNP “can’t have a party leader who’d vote against same sex marriage”.
Minister for children and young people, Ms Haughey, who had previously nominated Ms Forbes for leader, posted: “I absolutely and completely support equal marriage. I am unequivocal on this issue. I cannot continue to support Kate’s leadership campaign.”
Public Finance minister Mr Arthur pulled his support, hailing equal marriage as one of Holyrood’s “greatest achievements”.
Equal marriage is amongst our Parliament’s greatest achievements and one that I would have been proud to vote for had I been an MSP when it was passed.
Consequently, I am unable to continue to support Kate’s campaign.
— Tom Arthur (@ThomasCArthur) February 21, 2023
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
And after revealing she was “uncomfortable” with the comments on gay marriage, health committee convener Ms Martin tweeted: “We must be full throated in our support of equal marriage. No if or buts.
“I won’t be supporting Kate’s campaign on that basis. I wish her well – she’s extremely talented. But I have red lines. And this is one.”
Lorna Hood, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said it was “disingenuous” of Ms Forbes to claim that “mainstream” Christianity teaches that marriage should exclusively be between a man and a woman.
She tweeted: “The largest church in Scotland, the Church of Scotland, allows ministers to conduct same sex marriage and recently the Anglican Communion voted to allow priests to bless same sex relationships.
“We must never forget the basic tenet of Christianity is love, respect and tolerance.”
Meanwhile, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told Drivetime it was “blindingly obvious” that Ms Forbes was a better candidate than Mr Yousaf.
Mr Farron, who resigned after saying he was “torn” between his faith and serving as a political leader, also said she had been “very brave” to express her beliefs.
He added: “I think you ought to be very careful if you think that you should exclude people from high office because of their faith, and indeed it does become a blind spot for people who would otherwise call themselves liberals.”
Among the other MSPs still backing Ms Forbes are Business Minister Ivan McKee, as well as Jim Fairlie, Siobhian Brown and Michelle Thomson.
‘Warts and all answer’
MP Angus MacNeil told BBC Scotland he was also standing by the finance secretary in the leadership contest.
He said: “Usually in politics people complain that politicians avoid giving an answer but Kate Forbes gave a very frank and expansive answer – a warts and all answer if you like.
“People concentrated perhaps on the warts more than other parts but the important thing she said was there was no rolling back on rights people have established over the years.”
Leadership rival Mr Yousaf was absent for the final vote on equal marriage in 2014 but supported it at earlier stages.
‘Your equality is my equality’
Asked for his response to Ms Forbes, the health secretary told GMS: “It’s for her to defend her views, I’ve made my views very clear. I think my track record on equality issues speaks loud and clear.
“I’m a minority in this country, I have been my entire life and my rights don’t exist in some kind of vacuum.
“My rights are interdependent on other people’s rights and therefore I believe very firmly, in fact with every fibre in my being, that your equality is my equality.
“Therefore I’ll always fight for the equal rights of others regardless of who they are.”
Mr Yousaf said he would still consider appointing Ms Forbes to his cabinet if elected first minister, despite concerns it could threaten the SNP’s power-sharing agreement with the Greens.
He said: “Kate is extraordinarily talented, she’s incredibly intelligent, and she has been a more than capable performer in government and within the Scottish Parliament, so I wouldn’t hesitate to consider Kate for a job in government and cabinet if I was elected but that’s very presumptuous.”
Asked if he would appoint Ms Forbes at the expense of the agreement with the Greens, he said: “The Green deal for me is incredibly important but so is Kate’s potential contribution.”
Ash Regan has not been available for interview despite multiple requests from the BBC, but she is said to support gay marriage.
SNP leadership candidates have until Friday to secure 100 nominations from at least 20 local branches to secure their place on the ballot. The winner is due to be announced on 27 March.
Kate Forbes has always been completely open about her faith, so it is not a surprise that she has spoken about it on day one of her campaign.
But it has not played out well for her in the immediacy, with a series of fellow ministers withdrawing their endorsements over the issue of gay marriage.
It might be worth questioning why her backers didn’t see this coming when Ms Forbes has been open about her religious views in the past.
It is also notable that it was never seen as a bar to her becoming finance secretary, or indeed for others to hold high office in SNP governments – like Roseanna Cunningham or Fergus Ewing, who both voted against equal marriage legislation.
Ms Forbes says most people aren’t on Twitter, where the “storm” is playing out. She is hoping that the SNP’s membership will chew this matter over in a different way to the frantic pace of online discourse.
There are still five weeks to run in the contest, so there is plenty of time to turn things around – but there is already talk of her campaign being on the rocks.