The Spirit of Freedom: The Historic Marriage of Joe Schofield and Malx Brown

This originally appeared in Humanitie, Winter 2015 edition 

On New Year’s Eve 2014 Ross Wright, HSS Registered Celebrant, celebrated the marriage of Joe Schofield and Malx Brown in Glasgow’s Trades Hall. Whilst deeply personal to Joe and Malx, the ceremony was a historic occasion as for the first time in Scotland two single people of the same gender were able to marry.

Ross drew attention to MSPs and civil servants present who helped bring about the change in legislation, namely Simon Stockwell and Julia McCombie and acknowledged another first – the creation of a third category of marriage – a belief marriage, enshrined in the new law to distinguish secular humanist marriage from religious weddings, recognising the huge numbers in Scotland who choose to marry without religious influence.

Ross said: “Although religion has played too often a negative role in the debate about equal marriage, we should also acknowledge that there are many ministers from the Church of Scotland, Catholic priests and many of other faiths too who, following their own conscience, would like to have the freedom to marry gay and lesbian people, but whose hierarchies prevent them. And we hope, by seeing examples of the love that’s so evident this evening, that all religious leaders will ‘see the light’ and soon treat all people with equal dignity.”

To resounding applause Ross saluted those enlightened faiths which do allow that freedom of conscience and who have campaigned for equal marriage, such as the Liberal Jewish Community, the Quakers and the Unitarian Church, and the organisations that campaigned so long and so hard to bring about equality LBGT Youth; the Scottish Youth Parliament, MS Scotland, Stonewall and The Equality Network.

Joe and Malx are humanists because they share the belief that the foundations for ethics and society are to be found within us. Their lives demonstrate it is possible to live confidently and happily without metaphysical or religious certainty, knowing that all opinions are open to revision and correction, they favour the Scottish Enlightenment values of the advancement of humanity by it’s own efforts.

The wedding guests heard about the personal journeys of the couple that led to their wedding: Joe has never come out because he was never in and has been open about his sexuality since he was aware of it. He has been politically active, including campaigning for LGBT equality, from the age of 15.

Meanwhile Malx was brought up with a religious background and dated women until he was 26. As he came from Tullibody, a small town in Clackmannanshire, he felt unable to come out until he decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and be honest with family and friends. Although he was concerned about the reaction he would receive, they accepted him as he was the same Malx they’d always loved and respected.

So it was that the two got chatting online in June 2005, not on a dating site, but a website for punk and alternative music. Neither knew the other was gay. There were pictures however, and Joe was drawn to Malx’s ginger hair, his wit and down-to-earth nature. At the time Malx was a presenter for Central KM and Joe checked the station out online from his home in London. Imagine Joe’s surprise when he learned that this alternative-music loving bloke was playing poppy chart hits for a living. Luckily, it didn’t put him off!

At one point Malx disclosed he had gone through a bad relationship breakup with a man: the penny dropped and it was all steam ahead. They chatted online, then by phone, and got to know each other better.

It was a hard time generally for Malx with family illness and work issues, so the friendly chat was a great comfort. They found they had lots in common. Warm and fuzzy feelings passed between them but living in Croydon and Tullibody, it was destined to be a long distance friendship.

The first visit was in August 2005. Joe wanted to see the Francis Bacon exhibition in Glasgow and was picked up by his gallant groom from Glasgow Airport. When they got hack to Malx’s flat in Tullibody, Malx said he’d “pop up to the shops for a couple of cans and a pizza”. Bearing in mind Joe had been in Scotland for a matter of hours, what happened next was a make or break moment.

Malx came back with the booze, the food and a couple of ‘polis’ who demanded that Joe identify himself. Unbeknownst to our visiting Englishman, the ‘polis’ were looking for two men running a credit card fraud but as Joe didn’t fit the description of the local fraudster, the policeman just laughed and declared that he wasn’t the man they were looking for. Instead, it turned out that Joe was the man Malx had been looking for all his life.

They are an interesting couple with unexpected passions. Their love of alternative music takes them to gigs across Scotland, and an annual live-day punk festival in Blackpool. They also love Radio 4 and are especially fond of The Archers. They do however, disagree about the merits of You and Yours.

They are both fans of the dramatic west coast of Scotland, and have been camping in Skye many times. They have a shared love of astronomy and one of their first joint purchases was a telescope and camera they could use to photograph planets and constellations, which they have done on many a cold night.

They are a comedy double act with no straight man and a shared dark sense of humour. They enjoy the craic and unusual holidays. On one occasion using Malx Dad’s inheritance as their ‘honeymoon money’ they headed to the Ukraine, where they spent a couple days trekking in the area around the ruined Chernobyl nuclear power plant and visited an ex-Soviet nuclear missile base.

Joe upped sticks and risked everything to move north only eight months into their relationship but the bet paid off big time with them about to enter their tenth year together. They were always thinking the same thing about their relationship – that they were going to marry one day – and realising that equal marriage law was coming, decided they’d go for it as soon as it was possible.

When Humanist Society Scotland and Equality Network put out a call to find a ‘first’ couple they applied never thinking they’d be picked, but their story of disparate backgrounds: Scottish/English, former Catholic, atheist, an ‘out and proud’ campaigner for equality meeting a ginger Scots bloke from the sticks, tells a story of the search for love that represents the diversity of our community.

Like all marriages before and to come, this will be their marriage, not something created by the state or religion. It will be theirs to live each and every day because nothing anyone can say or do will make it any more or less than is already in their hearts.

As they approached the special moment when the equal marriage law took effect Joe and Malx have asked that, in silence, we salute those heroines and heroes of the past, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who refused to be treated as second best, who fought, often at great personal cost, for the right to he themselves, and to love who they chose.

The signing of the documents is done, as with every wedding, using indelible black ink which binds to the paper meaning it cannot be changed or erased. In a way reflecting not only the permanent change in the lives of Malx and Joe, but also this permanent change in Scottish life.

During the signing it was noted, with much amusement, that the transcription sheet hadn’t been updated to reflect the new law and said “Bridegroom and Bride” which Ross quickly amended to “Groom and Groom”.

Liz Lochead the Scottish Makar, and Marco Biaggi MSP (Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment) acted as witnesses. Joe and Malx followed the Scottish tradition of sharing the Quaich, the two handled Scottish drinking vessel.

Now that they are husband and husband they’ll share everything in life and symbolised this by sharing the first drink of their married lives from the same cup. The traditional drink is whisky and they chose to stick with the tradition. The whisky was a gift from Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown and as Joe and Malx are “green nationalists” they were delighted that the whisky is called ’45 The Spirit of Freedom”. Liz Lochhead read her wedding sonnet for the first double grooms in Scottish history:

 

EPITHALAMIUM

A sonnet, a lyric poem in honour of a very special couple on their wedding day – as performed as part of Malx and Joe’s marriage ceremony on 31 December 2014

For marriage, love and love alone’s the argument

Sweet ceremony then hand in hand we go

Taking to our changed, still dangerous days, our Complement.

We think we know ourselves, but all we know is: love surprises us.

Its like when sunlight flings

A sudden shaft that lights up

glamorous the rain

Across a city street – or when unexpected Spring’s First crisp, dry breath turns the air

champagne.

Delights Infectious – your quotidian friends put on with gladrag finery today, your joy.

Renew in themselves the right true ends

They won’t let old griefs old lives destroy.

When at our lover’s feet our opened selves we’ve laid

We find ourselves, and all the world, remade.

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