Scotland's Marriage Equality Starts Today

Scotland's Marriage Equality Starts Today

It was a new, more equal Scotland to which Scots awoke this morning, as marriage equality became law at midnight local time.

That means Scotland is now the world's 17th country to usher in the right to marry for same-sex couples. The new marriage law, which was passed by Parliament in February, is one of the most progressive equal-marriage statutes on the planet.

In addition to bestowing the right of marriage to same-sex couples and providing for simple, no-cost conversions of existing civil partnerships, the law also allows married transgender people to legally affirm their gender without concurrence from their spouse or having to first divorce their spouse, as had previously been the case (and still is in many European nations).

"After many years of campaigning, we are delighted that as of today same-sex marriage is now legal in Scotland," said Tom French, the Equality Network's policy and public affairs coordinator, in a written statement. "We wish all those couples who are getting married today, and those planning to do so in future, all the best."

Because Scotland mandates a 15-day waiting period for all couples wanting to marry — be they straight, gay, or otherwise — the first same-sex couple to marry under the new Scottish law exchanged vows at a Scottish consulate in Melbourne, Australia.

Douglas Pretsell and Peter Gloster, both 47, converted their civil partnership to a full-fledged marriage at 12:01 a.m. Scotland time (11:01 a.m. local time in Melbourne).

"We are so proud of Scotland for introducing equal marriage, and we hope that other countries like Australia will soon follow Scotland’s lead," the newlyweds, natives of Edinburgh, said in a statement released through the Equality Network, Scotland's leading LGBT rights organization.

"We always considered our civil partnership to be our marriage, but in the eyes of the law and society it wasn’t held in the same regard," Pretsell and Gloster continued. "Prior to today, same-sex couples were deliberately treated as though our relationships were inferior and not worthy of the same recognition or respect. Well, from today it's official — we are married and we have the certificate to prove it. This is an important step forward for equality both in terms of the law, but also in the way that LGBTI people will be viewed and treated in our society."

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Glasgow residents Scott and David Barclay (pictured above) were the first same-sex couple in Scotland to convert a civil partnership to marriage. They exchanged vows at Glasgow City Hall around 9 a.m. local time in the company of friends, family, Scottish government minister Marco Biagi, and staff and volunteers from the Equality Network.

"We are very proud to be part of this historic change and want to thank the Equality Network, the Scottish Government and all those who spoke out and fought for our equality," Scott, 34, and David Barclay, 33, said in a statement issued prior to their nuptials. "This is hugely personal for us as despite being in a committed relationship for nearly 11 years, paying our taxes and making an equal contribution to society, we have always been very aware that we were not offered the same treatment or respect, and have until now been denied the equal right to get married just like our straight friends and family. What a way to end such a momentous year for Scotland than to be one step closer to achieving full equality for LGBTI people."

A poll conducted by one of Scotland's leading research organizations released today shows that Scots support marriage equality by a margin of four to one.

The 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, published today, reports that 68 percent of respondents now agree that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, while 17 percent are opposed to the new law extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

"The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, considered one of the most robust studies of public opinion in Scotland, has shown a dramatic rise in support for same-sex marriage and steady decline in opposition since the survey was started in 1999," according to a statement from the Equality Network. "Previous surveys revealed 61 percent support and 19 percent opposition in 2010, 53 percent support and 21 percent opposition in 2006, and 41 percent support and 29 percent opposition in 2002."

Among the small minority who still oppose equal marriage rights in Scotland, most are over the age of 65 or regular churchgoers. But even among those groups, majorities favor expanding the freedom to marry. 

It is perhaps fitting that Scotland's highly progressive marriage equality law will allow for the first new marriages (rather than civil partnership conversions) to take effect December 31 — which is Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year. Hogmanay is a legendary Scottish street party and the event that spawned the world's most recognizable anthem for ringing in the new year on January 1, "Auld Lang Syne."

If a new year marks a new era of equality in Scotland, the birthplace of New Year's Day's anthem, could expanded marriage equality around the world be far behind? Probably not, according to one Australian who believes his country is next.

"I'm sure I speak for the majority of Australians who support marriage equality when I heartily congratulate Scots on this important milestone," said Rodney Croome, national convener of Australian Marriage Equality, in a statement also released via the Equality Network. "Australia has many historical and cultural ties with Scotland and I look forward to the time when another tie is that both countries treat all loving couples with equal dignity and respect."

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