Tom French: Equal marriage vote is a milestone

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Last night Scotland became the 17th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage and give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people an equal right to marry the person they love.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill passed its final vote in the Scottish Parliament with an overwhelming majority of 105 to 18, the third largest majority of any vote on same-sex marriage in the world.

Yesterday will be remembered in history not just as the day that same-sex couples won the right to have their love recognised and celebrated in the exact same way as everyone else, but also the date that Scotland took the final major step towards granting LGBT people full equality under the law.

When the vote was announced in the Scottish Parliament it was a profoundly emotional moment for many, particularly for those older LGBT people who experienced life growing up in a country where being gay was still a criminal offence until 1980.

Thirty-four years later and our country is a radically different place for LGBT people. Most people have friends, colleagues and family members who are openly LGBT, and the opinion polls show a clear majority of the public now supports same-sex marriage.

That’s not to say our work to achieve equality is complete. Legal equality is just one piece of the puzzle, and we know from our research and history that it does not guarantee an end to the barriers, prejudice and discrimination that LGBT continue to face, but at the very least it is an important foundation for a fairer society.

This week is a week for celebrating a significant milestone and the progress we’ve made towards a more equal Scotland. The Scottish Government and parliament deserve huge praise for producing what is undoubtedly one of the most progressive equal marriage bills in the world.

We know that many couples across Scotland will be looking forward to planning their wedding, and we hope they will be able to celebrate their big day by the end of this year when the legislation will come into effect.

But last night’s vote will do more than simply allow same-sex marriages to take place. Last night our government, our parliament, our political leaders sent out an important message to the world about the kind of fair and forward-looking country we are and the kind of values we hold dear.

For LGBT people that message was this: whoever you are, and whoever you love, in Scotland you are an equal and valued member of our society.

• Tom French is policy coordinator with the Equality Network