After days of facing social media onslaught for holding conservative Christian beliefs and being abandoned by former allies for declaring her faith-based views, SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes has found a new ally in the Westminster government.
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said she personally supported same-sex marriage, but also came out fighting for the right of Kate Forbes to take a different opinion.
Asked about comments made since Kate Forbes announced her aim to become Scotland’s next First Minister, Ms Badenoch told a Politico event on Tuesday evening: "I admire her for not being dishonest."
“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.”
Ms Badenoch went on to praise Forbes' honesty and fiercely defended her right to free expression.
“I’m not religious at all but I understand it. I grew up in a very religious country so I understand what it means to people and how they live their lives. So to stop people from saying what they really feel is overly draconian.”
“Those people who are withdrawing support from her I would say ‘why did you support her in the first place?’, because I don’t think what she is saying is new. It shows a level of unseriousness of many of the people who engage in political activity and commentary.”
Despite Kemi Badenoch’s defence of freedom of religious expression, another prominent Scottish Christian politician joined the attacks today against the views held by the SNP’s Minister for Finance. Colleague in government and Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he “profoundly” disagreed with the stance taken by Ms Forbes.
Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I think the thing for me that I would want to say at this stage is all of the debate that has been aired about Kate Forbes's position for me has got absolutely nothing to do with Kate's faith.”
"I am a man of deep Christian faith, but I don't hold the same views that Kate has set out in the course of the last couple of days. I think it has been unhelpful that the debate has been focused on the question of faith, because in my view it has got nothing to do with faith.”
The row has focussed on Ms Forbes's views on social issues, including revealing she would have voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage, that having children outside of marriage "would be wrong according to my faith" and her conviction that a “trans woman is a biological male, who identifies as a woman."
But Ms Badenoch underlined that she would not condemn politicians for their personal views: “I am the guardian of the Equality Act. Freedom of religion is one of the protected characteristics. To ask me to criticise someone for their religious beliefs when I’m supposed to be safeguarding them shows that those people do not understand equality.
“What they want is to use the Equality Act as a sword to fight their own personal battles rather than as a shield to prevent others from discrimination. So no, I won’t do that.”