Ross holds a mic whilst talking to a crowd at rally (not pictured) outside. He wears a green kilt.

10 years of equal marriage in Scotland: interview with celebrant Ross Wright

June 17, 2024

In this Pride Month instalment of our celebrant interview series, we speak to celebrant Ross Wright to celebrate and reflect on 10 years of equal marriage in Scotland. In 2014 the Marriage and Civil Partnership Act was passed, marking a huge milestone of equality in Scotland. Ross conducted the first same sex wedding ceremony in Scotland, for couple Joe and Malx, on new year’s eve 2014. He tells us about this experience, his campaigning work with Humanist Society Scotland, and his journey towards humanism.

Hi Ross, can you tell us a bit about you and your background?

I grew up in East Kilbride but moved to Glasgow to go to university and never left. Coming out in my early twenties, I was coordinator with ‘Gay Switchboard’, an information phone line. This also became the first information source about HIV when the AIDS pandemic started. I also helped set up the Steve Retson project, the gay men’s sexual health service. So, looking back, I guess I’ve always been involved in the community and been an agitator for change.

How did you get involved with campaigning for equal marriage?

As a celebrant and gay man I’ve always had the belief that everyone should be treated equally. When the campaign for equal marriage started, I felt Humanist Society Scotland must take a major role to fight for equality.

Alongside the Humanist Society Scotland team, I worked with Equality Network who were the campaign leads. I quickly learned how politics worked, how the media worked and soon we were appearing on TV debates. We met with government ministers and politicians, wrote letters to newspapers, went to rallies, and attended receptions in the Scottish Parliament.

We once organised a rally with LGBT Youth Scotland outside parliament where myself and a few Humanist Society Scotland colleagues conducted pretend ‘same sex marriages’ for the cameras. One of the most difficult tasks was appearing before the parliamentary committee to answer questions about Humanist Society Scotland views on the proposed law. Both Tim Hopkins from Equality Network and a wonderful lawyer named Helen Dale coached me. Despite the stressful situation I managed to keep calm and logically and rationally argue for our position. The fact that Humanist Society Scotland was a respected organisation and that our celebrants were already doing such great work conducting ceremonies really added weight to our arguments, and the case for equal marriage was made. I also attended meetings with civil servants, the unsung heroes of the new Marriage Act who actually write new laws, giving feedback on the proposed changes.

One thing many won’t realise is that as well as being the first marriage of two people of the same sex, it was also the first marriage under a new category called ‘Belief’, created in Scotland uniquely to differentiate humanist ceremonies from religious or civil (registrar) ceremonies. I’m proud of that too!

What does Pride mean to you?

When I came out it was still illegal to be gay in Scotland so first and foremost I see Pride as a political movement, asserting our right to be treated equally. I always used go to London for the Gay Pride March (and the party too!). Attending my first Pride March in Glasgow, walking the streets of my home town, was inspiring. It made me feel very proud at the progress we’d made as a society.

How did you first get involved with humanism?

A friend of mine asked me to read a poem at her son’s baby naming ceremony. She explained this was a humanist ceremony. I googled humanism, found there was a meeting in Glasgow and went along. Whilst there with likeminded, kind people, I felt at home. I was a salesman at the time so was used to speaking in public and I guess projected confidence, so someone asked me if I was a celebrant. “What’s that?” I asked. The job was explained and as Humanist Society Scotland needed celebrants to meet demand for humanist funerals, it was suggested I apply. Sixteen years later I’m still here! 

Can you tell us a bit about the couple who had the first ceremony, Joe and Malx?

Equality network and Humanist Society Scotland put out a joint call to the community. We asked for volunteers to be the first same sex couple to get married, and about a dozen couples applied.  

For each couple who applied, Humanist Society Scotland celebrants who were also involved in the campaign conducted free ceremonies on the first day of the new law. After chatting to many of the couples I saw Joe and Malx really ‘got it’. They were a down to earth couple who accepted they would be getting married as representatives of our community. They also agreed to do endless interviews and photoshoots, and I loved how upbeat and fun they were too!

How was the experience of conducting the ceremony as a celebrant?

It was an honour to conduct this wedding! Although I knew the eyes of the country (and indeed the world) would be on this ceremony so it was also quite stressful.

With couple Joe and Malx I worked on a ceremony which would reflect their relationship and their lives, our community and our values, and the historic nature of the event.

As what they were doing was historic, the couple chose a historic venue. On the evening of 30th December 2014, Joe and Malx’s family and friends, politicians, civil servants and Humanist Society Scotland celebrants gathered in Trades Hall, Glasgow.

If their marriage was to be ‘the first’ we had the additional factor of getting the timing right. I asked them about a ‘buffer’, something in the ceremony that would allow their vows to be precisely at midnight. Joe and Malx suggested a moment of silence to reflect on all the people who have fought, sometimes at great personal cost, to get us here. That perfect line was the most difficult to say when the moment came, but it was so right!

A minute after midnight I was delighted to declare Malx and Joe ‘husband and husband’.

Liz Lochead, the Scots Makar, and Marco Biagi MSP, who signed the 2014 Marriage Act into law, were official witnesses. The ceremony ended with Liz reading a poem she had written for the occasion called Epithilamium. The last two lines perfectly summarised what had just happened…

“When at our lover’s feet our opened selves we’ve laid
We find ourselves, and all the world, remade.”

Joe and Malx stand behind Liz Lochead as she reads her poem to wedding guests. Joe and Malx wear kilts and Liz wears a tartan suit jacket.
Liz reads her poem to guests during Joe and Malx’s wedding ceremony

Are there any moments that have been particularly special for you in conducting same sex ceremonies?

The marriages of older same sex couples can be extremely emotional because when they were young, they could never have envisioned their wedding day. Being older myself, that resonates, meaning I have to concentrate to stop greetin!

Some same sex couples want rainbow flags, drag queens and feathers. And some want just to be able to marry their best friend. A person who just happens to be the same gender. And there are all the shades in between…I love them all! 

Celebrant Ross stands between Joe and Malx conducting their wedding ceremony. He smiles warmly looking on as Joe and Malx stand facing each other, smiling with hands clasped together.
Ross conducting Joe and Malx’s wedding ceremony

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