Kate Forbes says she feels “burdened and heartsore” that her comments over the last few days have “caused hurt to friends, colleagues and fellow citizens”.
The MSP, who is running to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister, issued a statement following scrutiny over her faith and beliefs about rights including gay marriage.
Forbes, who is a member of The Free Church of Scotland, lost a number of high-profile supporters in her leadership bid after declaring she would have voted against same-sex marriage.
She also said having a child outside of marriage is “wrong” according to her religious beliefs.
The Free Church of Scotland claimed the scrutiny and criticism of her statements was “bigotry” and “anti-Christian intolerance”.
However, on Thursday afternoon, Forbes said she had “listened carefully” to the response following her comments.
She also attempted to refocus the leadership debate on the issue of Scottish independence.
Her full statement said: “This election is about independence, who is best equipped, and who has the best plan to achieve it. It is also about the society we want Scotland to be – where tolerance is the ruling ethic, poverty becomes history, equality of opportunity is the birth right of every child.
“Over the last few days, questions have focused on my faith. I feel greatly burdened and heartsore that some of my responses to direct questions in the media have caused hurt to friends, colleagues and fellow citizens. That was never my intention, but I’ve listened carefully.
“I will protect the rights of everybody in Scotland, particularly minorities, to live and to love without fear or harassment in a pluralistic and tolerant society. I will uphold the laws that have been hard won, as a servant of democracy.
“I will also seek to enhance the rights of everybody to live in a way which enables them to flourish. I firmly believe in the inherent dignity of each human being; that underpins all ethical and political decisions I make.”
Forbes, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, is running against Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan for the leadership.
Yousaf and Regan – who is expected to formally launch her campaign on Friday – have declared their support for same-sex marriage in light of Forbes’ comments.
Yousaf also said he would not use his Muslim faith as a basis for voting on legislation.
Following her comments, a number of MSPs withdrew support for Forbes’ leadership.
Just transition and employment minister Richard Lochhead, public finance and planning minister Tom Arthur, children’s minister Clare Haughey, SNP foreign affairs spokesperson Drew Hendry MP and convener of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee Gillian Martin have dropped their backing.
In her statement on Thursday, Forbes added: “I’ve represented my constituents for six years. In full knowledge of my faith, voters re-elected me with one of the biggest majorities in Scotland in 2021. That demonstrates that voters were comfortable knowing that I would serve them faithfully and without prejudice.
“Since 2018, I’ve served in the Scot Gov, making financial decisions for the benefit of all of Scotland’s people. The Budget underpins all Scot Gov policies – serving everybody and upholding their rights.”
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country