The Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill has just passed in the Scottish Parliament by 105 votes to 18.
I’ve watched the debate all through this afternoon.
It is difficult to put into words what it feels like.
As I was growing up, I never knew what I never heard. You don’t know what you are missing sometimes. It is only as gay rights have been argued for, fought for and achieved that I’ve realised what it meant to grow up feeling, knowing, that society was inevitably going to treat me as someone who had less value and less opportunity than others. In short, I became an adult in a world which was silent about people like me. That’s why it is so shocking and emotional and staggering for that silence to be broken in public life, most notably by parliamentarians speaking up for LGBT people and gradually, progressively, legislating the old legal discriminations away.
Now, today, a huge thing has happened. I can now get married, should someone want to have me. Inevitably, my view of marriage and relationships has been coloured by being formed in a world where I was excluded from the possibility. I never got to think or dream about what I’d wear, where it would be or who I would be standing next to. I never got to imagine being with someone through thick and thin, for good and for bad, ’til death us do part. And I still can’t imagine what it would be like to hear and feel the full acceptance and love of the world around me should I ever be able to stand at an altar and declare that I want to be with someone forever.
For some of the silences still remain. For the last three years I’ve been named on the Pink List as one of the most influential gay people in the UK. Were I to achieve national recognition in any other area, I could probably expect my bishop and other leaders in the church to contact me privately, congratulate me publicly and the institution that I work for to be proud of me. Instead of that, at the moments when friends have been cheering me on as a national newspaper recognised some of what I’ve done, I’ve heard from the institution I work for that same silence that I know all too well.
However, I’m hopeful. I’ve seen the military change. I’ve seen the police change. I’ve seen newspapers change. I’m seeing schools change. And as it has happened, I’ve changed. I’ve become more of the person I really am. Like others who identify as gay or lesbian, I’ve become more whole.
Today is a great day. It is a day when things have changed forever.
I used to campaign quite actively for gay rights in the church. Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was to throw my efforts into changing the law. I was right to do so. Though many who love me greatly were sympathetic, many of them told me I was mad and that it would never happen in my lifetime. It hasn’t just happened in my lifetime. The possibility that I could marry has come in in time for there to be the possiblity that I might one day benefit from it. That great legal change is now accomplished.
Today is a joyful day for gay and lesbian couples in Scotland and for their supporters. The Scottish Parliament has now made it possible for same-sex couples to get married and no words can express how much I welcome that. It is a significant step towards Equal Marriage and will make it possible for many couples to celebrate the best day of their lives.
The campaign for marriage equality now moves into the churches in Scotland and those churches have a golden opportunity to show that they support equality, support gay and lesbian Christians and support the settled will of lawmakers. Increasingly, support for marriage equality is becoming the touchstone of moral behaviour for decent people.
I hope that it is not long before I can marry same-sex couples in St Mary’s Cathedral but we must remember that today the Scottish Parliament passed laws which make it difficult for many religious bodies to opt into the legislation. It will be the case that many same-sex couples will need to have a legal marriage at the local Registrar’s Office and then come to church for a religious ceremony. I look forward to celebrating many joyful nuptial masses for same-sex couples and in due course to conducting legal marriages.
In the Scottish Episcopal Church marriage service we ask a simple question not to the couple but to everyone present:
“Will all of you support and encourage N. and N. in their marriage?”
Let the word go out from Scotland: “WE WILL!”