Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has defended peoples' right to oppose gay marriage, after a contender in the race to become Scotland's first minister said she would have voted against it.
The senior Tory, who recently ran against Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak in the race to become prime minister, insisted she supports same-sex marriage but lauded Kate Forbes for being honest about her views.
Ms Forbes was briefly the favourite to replace Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), until she revealed in a number of interviews that she sees marriage as "being between a man and a woman" and she would not have voted to change the law were she an MSP in 2014 when the legislation was approved.
Ms Badenoch, asked about the comments at a Politico event on Tuesday evening, told the audience: "I admire her for not being dishonest."
She said: “I support same sex marriage and like anyone I’m disappointed when anyone disagrees with me. But if you’re asking me to condemn someone for their religious views you’ve failed to understand the basic responsibilities of being minister for equality.”
“I actually admire her for not being dishonest. It’d be very easy for her to tell lies, just so that she could win that election, and she’s not doing that, and I think that that’s something that people need to take into account.”
Several of Ms Forbes' early backers withdrew support following her comments, including public finance minister Tom Arthur, minister for children Clare Haughey, and health committee convener Gillian Martin.
Ms Badenoch questioned why those people would have ever endorsed her, given her views are not a new revelation.
“I do think that those people who are withdrawing support from her, I’d ask ‘why did you support her in the first place’?
"Because I don’t think what she’s saying is new, and I think it shows a level of unseriousness of many people who engage in political activity and commentary, where they don’t take things seriously in terms of ‘why am I supporting this person’?”
Ms Forbes - the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, and Scotland's finance minister - told ITV News in an interview on Tuesday that she wanted to apologise "unequivically" for the hurt caused by her comments.
MSP Kate Forbes asked about her views on gay marriage:
She added: "I absolutely defend people's right in this country to marry, as they've been able to do for the past nine years."
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”.
Ms Regan said she "firmly" supports the right to equal marriage but agreed with Ms Badenoch that "ideas different to our own must not be dismissed but discussed".
Downing Street said on Tuesday that Prime Minister 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.
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