Same-sex marriage: The first among equals

Nathan and Robert Gale say new law will give more choice to same-sex couples. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Nathan and Robert Gale say new law will give more choice to same-sex couples. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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WITH Scotland leading the rest of the UK on same-sex marriage we speak to two couples pleased at the progress

THE road leading to the prestigious golf and hotel resort at Gleneagles was paved with demonstrators and police. It was 2005, and hundreds of protesters had made their way to the Perthshire venue to vent their frustration and anger on the world’s leaders.

As the day disintegrated into chaos – protesters tried to storm the G8 Summit, ploughing their way into a field near the resort while riot police descended from army helicopters – love was blossoming between two strangers.

Today Nathan and Robert Gale from Leith look back on their first meeting with a wry laugh. It was, says Nathan, 28, “a crazy place to meet. But an incredibly memorable first meeting for many reasons”.

The pair had travelled separately to join what had been planned as a peaceful protest. By the time they were making their way home to Edinburgh, the day’s drama had made international headlines and their journey as a couple had begun.

“We all went to the pub after the protest and Robert and I just hit it off. In fact, we were so engrossed in flirting with each other, that the coaches that had taken us there had left without us and we ended up with quite a bit of trouble getting home. We had to hitchhike for part of the way and then we finally caught a train back to Edinburgh.”

Three years later Nathan proposed. A civil partnership might not have had the same romantic ring to it as “Will you marry me?”, but it was the best Scotland’s legal system could offer them.

Within a couple of years, however, couples like Nathan and Robert will be entitled to precisely the same marriage ceremony as everyone else. The SNP government confirmed on Wednesday that it is to press ahead with plans to make Scotland the first part of the UK to introduce same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for all. The announcement, after a bitter debate that saw religious leaders eventually condemn the move as a “dangerous social experiment”, paves the way for draft legislation later this year and the possibility of the first proper “gay marriage” by 2015.

All of which, smiles Nathan, is a giant leap forward not just for same-sex couples with religious beliefs but for others like him and Robert who simply want to have their union given the same status as others.

“For us, this is about freedom,” he points out. “ Just because we don’t want a religious wedding doesn’t mean other people should not have that choice. It’s about equality.”

The gulf between a civil partnership ceremony and the kind of marriage service offered to other couples became obvious when Nathan, who works as a development officer for gay rights campaign group the Equality Network, and Robert began to plan their own ceremony. As they discussed their preferences with the registrar, they found tight restrictions on what they could include and legal requirements which, Nathan recalls, made the ceremony feel awkward and stiff.

“We were given a book so we could pick the ceremony and change different bits to suit,” he says. “There couldn’t be any mention of anything religious, so the registrar went through it all to make sure we hadn’t mentioned ‘Jesus’ or anything. It felt quite strange really.

“Not that we’re religious,” he adds, “but it highlighted how people should have the choice and if they wanted a religious service why couldn’t they have it?

“Then the initial wording at the service was a bit odd,” he adds. “The registrar said, ‘We’re all brought here by the Civil Partnership Act 2004’, and I remember thinking ‘well that’s not particularly romantic!’. So it started to feel quite procedural rather than a loving, romantic ceremony.

“Still, I call Robert my husband even though in law he is my ‘civil partner’.”

The couple celebrated at The Hub on the Royal Mile, with more than 100 guests from around the world before jetting off to San Francisco for their honeymoon.

Robert, 32, who has cerebral palsy and is a director of Flip, an organisation working to promote disability equality in the arts, says Wednesday’s announcement is a major leap towards finally breaking down barriers. “It’s a great step forward for Scotland to be recognised as a country that sees gay people and straight people as the same and that no longer discriminates against people because of sexuality. Marriage is recognised all over the world but some places abroad do not recognise civil partnerships.

“Sometimes people get frightened of change but things change all the time – even marriage as it is today has evolved over the years.

“What’s good is that young people growing up who have been given the message that they are somehow ‘wrong’ now know that’s not the case.”

The draft Bill to introduce same-sex marriage will be published later this year. The Act is likely to be passed by MSPs in mid-2014 before it is given Royal Assent, paving the way for the first same-sex marriages in early 2015. It may, says Nathan, be a chance for them as a couple to renew their vows. “We’ve been talking to friends, many of them have civil partnerships, and saying how great it would be if we had a group ‘wedding’ once the law is changed. It would be symbolic, but it would be a chance to get together and celebrate.

“I think there will be a huge race to see who will be the first to be 
married.”

Northern promise

For years couples from outside Scotland have made the pilgrimage north to marry – in olden times to elope and take advantage of laws that made it legal for couples under 21 to tie the knot without their parents’ consent.

So could the breakthrough move to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland ahead of the rest of the UK, mean Edinburgh becomes the nation’s “gay wedding capital”?

According to Ruth Cochrane, who runs Edinburgh-based LoveScotland.com, a wedding planning service specialising in same-sex ceremonies, there’s every chance that the Capital will become a key destination for gay marriages.

“There’s a huge market anyway in destination weddings – around 60 per cent of people who get married in Scotland aren’t from here. People already come from all over the world to marry here, for some it’s the Madonna factor, they want to marry in a castle. I’ve had couples from Nigeria and America.

“But the civil partnership thing is often not enough for them. Civil partnership in one country might not really be recognised as the same thing in another country, even if they have their own version. Marriage is what countries recognise.”

She believes the legal change will draw couples not only from within the UK north to Edinburgh to marry, but also from around the world.

“Tourism is one of our key economic drivers in Scotland, so there will be a benefit there. But at the end of the day, this was just the right thing to do.”

The Catholic Church in Scotland, however, has opposed moves to legalise same-sex marriage, claiming it is a “dangerous social experiment on a massive scale”.

The Free Church of Scotland said the announcement was “a sad day for Scotland”, while the Church of Scotland said it had concerns the decision was being rushed through without “adequate debate and reflection”.

‘Attitudes are disrespectful’

ESTHER and Bev Paterson sealed their love with a civil partnership last June – Esther dressed in a vintage black gown.

But their plans to take the vintage theme a stage further with some romantic Elvis songs hit a snag when they were warned that any lyrics which referred to God or religion would have to be reconsidered.

Esther, 30, who is now expecting the couple’s first child, explains: “We just happened to like the songs, but we had to watch that they didn’t have any religious undertone or we couldn’t use them.

“That was frustrating that we had to pay so much attention to something like that whereas for a mixed-sex couple that would not come into it. And the start of the ceremony which began talking about being there because of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – in fact, we were there to celebrate my partnership to my wife. I didn’t feel that kind of reference was necessary.”

The strict legal restrictions surprised the couple and highlighted the subtle differences that singled them out from any other couple.

Esther adds: “When people are saying things like same-sex marriage would ruin the moral fabric of society, it’s quite disrespectful.”

While she says attitudes to same-sex couples have progressed, Esther, who works with LGBT Youth Scotland, says she and Bev, also 30, have experienced abuse just for holding hands. “We’ve had people shouting ‘dykes’ at us, men making sexual references at us. People associate same-sex with what goes on in the bedroom with little recognition around a same-sex relationship being the same as any other relationship.”

The couple went through artificial insemination and when the child is born, both will go on the birth certificate as mother.

The same-sex marriage development comes just at the right time, adds Esther. “I’m so happy this is happening now, before the birth of our child. I’m happy that he or she will be brought up in a country that I’m proud of.”