|The Scottish government decision |
came after a consultation on gay
Scotland is set to become the first part of the UK to introduce gay marriage after the SNP government announced plans to make the change.
Scottish ministers confirmed they would bring forward a bill on the issue.
Political leaders, equality groups and others support gay marriage, but it is strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland.
The announcement was made in the wake of a government consultation which produced a massive response.
Same-sex couples in Scotland currently have the option to enter into civil partnerships and the Holyrood government has insisted no part of the religious community would be forced to hold same-sex weddings in churches.
Despite opposition by the big religions, faith groups, including the United Reformed Church, the Quakers, Buddhists and the Pagan Federation back gay marriage.
The issue also caused a split in the SNP, after a parliamentary motion tabled by party MSP John Mason, stating no person or organisation should be forced to be involved in or to approve of same-sex marriage, led to accusations by some of his colleagues that his actions encouraged discrimination.
Gordon Wilson, a former SNP leader, has also warned plans for same-sex marriage could "alienate" people considering voting for independence in the 2014 referendum.
Civil partnerships in Scotland offer the same legal treatment as marriage in areas such as inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance, child maintenance, next of kin and immigration rights, but are still seen as distinct from marriage.
A man and a woman can opt for a religious or civil marriage ceremony, whereas a same-sex partnership is an exclusively civil procedure.
The UK government, which is consulting on changing the status of civil ceremonies to allow gay and lesbian couples in England and Wales to get married, wants to make the change by 2015.
The Scottish government's decision came on the same day that the partner of the late Labour MP David Cairns said anti-gay remarks by the new Archbishop of Glasgow added to his "grief and pain".
Dermot Kehoe spoke after it emerged Philip Tartaglia appeared to link the death of Mr Cairns to his sexuality.
Mr Cairns, who was Labour MP for Inverclyde and a former Catholic priest, died at the age of 44 in May last year after suffering from acute pancreatitis.