Kate Forbes apologises 'unequivocally' for revealing views on gay marriage

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has defended her controversial comments surrounding gay marriage as she looks to become Scotland's first minister. Louise Scott reports

An MSP hoping to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland's first minister has apologised for offending the LGBT+ community with her views on gay marriage and insisted her campaign to lead the SNP is still alive.

Kate Forbes, who revealed on Monday she would have voted against gay marriage had she the chance, told ITV News: "I unequivocally apologise for any hurt and offence that has been caused.

"I absolutely defend people's right in this country to marry, as they've been able to do for the past nine years."

MSP Kate Forbes asked about her views on gay marriage:

Ms Forbes was very briefly the favourite to succeed Ms Sturgeon after throwing her hat into the leadership race, until she revealed, in a number of interviews, her views of "marriage being between a man and a woman".

Asked by Channel 4 if she would have voted against gay marriage, had she been elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2014 when the legislation was approved, she said: "I would have."

Shortly after, a number of early supporters of her campaign withdrew their backing.

These included: public finance minister Tom Arthur, minister for children Clare Haughey, and health committee convener Gillian Martin.

Ms Martin said she was "uncomfortable" reading the comments, before adding: "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."

Finance Secretary Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, asked by BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme if her campaign was over before it began, she replied: “Absolutely not. We have a large party membership, most of whom are not on Twitter.

“I understand 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’ve tried to do in the media yesterday. That doesn’t necessarily allow for much nuance.

“My position on these matters is that I will defend to the hilt everybody’s rights in a pluralistic and tolerant society, to live and to love free of harassment and fear.”

Ms Forbes later said she regrets the pain caused by her comments. On Times Radio, she said: “I regret enormously the pain or hurt that has been caused because that was neither my intention, and I would seek forgiveness if that is how it’s come across.”

Ms Forbes added that she defends the rights of LGBT+ people to live “free of harassment, fear and prejudice”.

Her bid to become first minister faces competition from Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan, who both announced they would be running on Sunday.

Mr Yousaf has said he will “always fight for the equal rights of others”.

Asked what he thought of what Ms Forbes had to say on same-sex marriage, he told the Good Morning Scotland programme: “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.”

Ms Regan has not yet commented on gay marriage, but did quit Ms Sturgeon's government over the controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament but blocked by the UK government over its impact to Great Britain-wide equality rules.

Unveiling her campaign to succeed Ms Sturgeon, she said she would be the person to "bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them".

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

Downing Street said Rishi Sunak was “hugely proud” of the UK being a diverse and tolerant country, but would not be drawn directly on Ms Forbes’ stance on gay marriage.

Pressed on Ms Forbes’ position, Mr Sunak's spokesman said: “It’s fundamentally a decision for members of political parties to decide who leads them. That’s not something I’m going to comment on.”

Ms Sturgeon announced she would be standing down as SNP leader after eight years, in a press conference last week.

She said the decision was "right for me, and my party, and my country."

She insisted the move was "not a reaction to short term pressures" - a comment percieved as reference to a row over transgender prisoners, which led to widespread criticism of the Scottish government.

Ms Sturgeon will remain in office until her successor is chosen.