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I Went to Scotland's First Gay Wedding

As of midnight last night, same-sex couples could finally tie the knot. I went to the wedding of Joe Schofield and Malx Brown to celebrate.

by Owen Duffy
Jan 1 2015, 3:20pm

Photos by Andrew Perry

This piece first appeared on VICE UK

Scotland's first same-sex marriage ceremonies took place seconds after midnight on December 31, 2014. The weddings—one of two men and one of two women—marked the culmination of a long and hard-fought campaign by LGBT rights activists for marriage equality.

Or, depending on your views, they signified the end of traditional definitions of marriage, a threat to the sanctity of family life and the beginning of a slippery slope towards marriage being meaningless. That's the opinion of Scotland for Marriage, a campaign ran by an alliance of Christian organizations. They used the catchy slogan, "Supporting the current definition of marriage, which has served Scotland well for centuries." I guess they were using "Scotland" as an abbreviation for "straight people in Scotland."

Scottish ministers had intended to recognize same-sex marriage at the same time as their English counterparts, but Westminster managed to enact its legislation first, leaving Scottish couples looking on enviously as same-sex couples south of the border got hitched from March 2014. But with its own law now in place, Scotland has joined the growing list of countries which recognize marriage between people of the same gender.

I went along to one of the weddings to find out whether two people publicly declaring their love for one another really could lead to the breakdown of Scottish society.

Joe (left) and Malx (right)

Grooms Joe Schofield and Malcolm "Malx" Brown certainly didn't seem the type of folks to destroy civilization as we know it. Friendly and excited, they met me at their wedding venue—the lavish Trades Hall in Glasgow's famously LGBT-friendly Merchant City district—where they told me they hadn't intended their marriage to become one of biggest news stories of the year.

"Honestly, if it had been up to us then we'd have gone to the local registry office in our normal clothes with a couple of pals and done it quietly" said Joe, a 42-year-old healthcare worker, originally from Manchester.

"But when the opportunity came up to be one of the first couples to marry, we jumped at it. It wasn't that we thought we were special, it was that we wanted to share our wedding with all of the activists, the politicians and the community members who've been fighting for this."

The couple met online through last.fm. Both fans of punk and alternative music, they bonded over their shared love of the Fall and Dropkick Murphys. Online chats led to phone calls and eventually to Joe loading his possessions into a van and coming to live with Malx north of the border.

Ten years later, with Scotland's same-sex marriage law coming into force, the two decided to tie the knot.

But while their wedding marks a high point for Scotland's LGBT community, the road to equality hasn't always been smooth. The nation didn't officially legalise same-sex sexual activity until 1981, 14 years later than England.

And in 2000, campaigners bankrolled by the Stagecoach transport tycoon Brian Souter fought against the repeal of laws which prohibited the "promotion" of homosexuality as a "pretended family relationship" in schools. The Keep the Clause group ran a nationwide billboard campaign warning of the horrors awaiting Scottish schoolchildren if teachers were allowed to suggest that gay, lesbian and bisexual people weren't somehow fundamentally flawed.

Nowadays, though, public opinion seems to be squarely on the side of LGBT rights. In 2002, 40 percent of Scots polled approved of same-sex marriage. By 2014 that proportion had jumped to 68 percent. Scotland for Marriage started a petition against marriage equality and they only managed to attract 54,000 signatures. The legislation sailed through the Scottish parliament with a massive majority.

Marco Biagi MSP, pictured left, as the couple cut into a big wedding cake with two groom figures and a map of Scotland on it

Marco Biagi, the Scottish government minister who introduced the new same-sex marriage law, reckons the shift in public attitudes was largely down to more and more people being open about their sexuality. "I think it's visibility that does it," he said. "If you've got a friend who is openly gay then it demystifies the whole thing. If it's a brother, sister, niece, nephew, grandchild, then even more so."

He added that he'd been surprised by the willingness of many in the "anti" camp to listen to opposing views. "There will always be die-hard opponents, with any kind of social change that will happen," he said. "But I found that during the campaign the great majority of people I spoke to weren't die-hards. They were genuinely concerned about religions being forced to change their practices and other unintended consequences.

"A lot of those people respond to the argument that groups like the Quakers and Unitarian Church want to offer same-sex marriage in accordance with their religious beliefs. The proscription on same-sex marriage was unfair to them; it's an issue of religious freedom."

Biagi served as one of the witnesses for Joe and Malx's ceremony, which, for such a momentous turning point in Scottish history, actually turned out to be a pretty straightforward affair.

Ross Wright, center, as the couple read their vows

The grooms entered together, led by a piper playing Scotland the Brave. Celebrant Ross Wright from the Humanist Society of Scotland—himself a prominent LGBT rights activist—introduced the couple and shared some stories from their relationship. The time Malx was almost arrested because he looked similar to a wanted credit card forger. The time the couple went on holiday to Ukraine and hiked around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. That kind of thing.

The grooms read vows they'd written themselves. They exchanged rings. On the stroke of midnight they kissed and were declared lawfully married husbands.

Malx cried. It was all very sweet.

There was a slight snag when it came to signing the marriage schedule. The paperwork provided had spaces for signatures for a bride and groom, but a quick handwritten alteration by the registrar soon put things to rights.

Cake was cut. Then the newlyweds stood in front of a battery of flashing cameras while confetti cannons showered them from a balcony overhead.

On the whole it was touching and incredibly civilized. The couple hadn't even arranged a boozy reception —with Hogmonay celebrations (the Scottish new year) looming they wanted to save their strength—so no one even got hammered.

If, as its opponents suggest, same-sex marriage is going to damage the fabric of Scottish society, then it's difficult to look at Joe and Malx and see how. It seems pretty clear that Scotland is strengthened by equality.

"I think Scotland is evolving, it's changing, it's moving on," said Malx. "During the independence referendum campaign we had a lot of talk about fairness and equality in Scotland, I think this is an example of that attitude. There's still more to do in terms of equality, but I'm really proud to be a Scot because of this."

As I left I couldn't disagree. I felt I lived in a better country today than the one I lived in yesterday.

Follow Owen Duffy on Twitter.

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