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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 December 2005, 10:38 GMT
Couples in partnership ceremonies
John Maguire and Lawrence Scott-Mackay
John Maguire and Lawrence Scott-Mackay
Seven same-sex couples are taking part in the first civil partnership ceremonies in Scotland.

The Civil Partnership Act, which came into effect earlier this month, gives gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

Couples will benefit from a major change in next of kin status and inheritance tax and pension rights.

But registrars in the Western Isles Council area are refusing to offer ceremonies on moral grounds.

Four of the ceremonies were being held in Edinburgh and one each in Aberdeen, Dumfries and Galloway and Glasgow.

What the local authority is not doing is providing the all-singing, all-dancing ceremony
Alasdair Morrison MSP
Western Isles

The first couple involved in Edinburgh were John Maguire and partner Laurence Scott-Mackay, who went on to be blessed by Bishop Richard Holloway.

Mr Maguire and Mr Scott-Mackay have been together almost 14 years after meeting in a bar in Edinburgh in January 1992.

They are both originally from Scotland - Mr Maguire, from Bathgate, West Lothian, while Mr Scott-Mackay is from Dornoch in Sutherland - but currently live in Washington DC in America, where they work for an IT firm.

Male homosexuality was still a crime in Scotland, when they were born in the early 1970s and was not decriminalised until 1981.

'Absolutely incredible'

Mr Maguire said of his big day: "It's absolutely incredible. For the first time in our relationship and for the first time in the history of the lesbian and gay movement, our government and our country is saying 'you're valid, your relationship is worth something.

"'It's got to be rewarded, it's got to be encouraged. Here's the benefits, here's the rights, here's the responsibilities - but you're equal'.

"There's definitely a sense of history about it, there's no mistaking that.

"It's an incredibly awesome experience. It's mind-blowing and breathtaking.

Local authorities have a duty to promote equality and treat lesbian and gay people the same as they would anyone else
Patrick Stokes
Equality Network

"There's a responsibility on us to make sure that we appropriately pay tribute to all the people who worked so hard for hundreds of years to bring this day about."

In Aberdeen, city councillors Neil Fletcher and John Stewart were the second couple in Scotland to become civil partners at a ceremony and blessing at King's College.

The couple, who have been together for 13 years, wore morning suits and top hats and arrived for the 35-minute ceremony in a vintage Rolls-Royce.

The ceremony was attended by about 150 guests, including fellow councillors, Aberdeen Lord Provost John Reynolds and Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen, who arrived 20 minutes late.

Ceremony guarantee

But the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland - and others - have said that "gay weddings" undermine the importance and unique status of marriage which they believe is best for individuals, society and children.

Every council is obliged to register civil partnerships, although accompanying ceremonies are discretionary.

The Registrar General has guaranteed that every couple will be entitled to registration and a ceremony anywhere in Scotland.

Western Isles Council
The council has backed registrars on moral grounds

But Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) in the staunchly religious Outer Hebrides has agreed to support registrars who will not offer ceremonies although it will meet its legal obligations to register civil partnerships.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Morrison said: "What the local authority is quite responsibly doing is what it's obliged to do under statute.

"That is allowing people to register their partnerships but what it's not doing is providing the all-singing, all-dancing ceremony.

"They're not obliged to do that under any act or any piece of legislation, so why should they do that?"

Motion in parliament

However, Patrick Stokes, of the Equality Network, said: "This is an issue around equality.

"Local authorities have a duty to promote equality and treat lesbian and gay people the same as they would anyone else.

"If you're offering ceremonies for heterosexual people getting a registration, then that should also be offered to lesbian and gay people."

Civil partnership papers
Many same-sex couples plan to join in civil partnership

Green MSP Patrick Harvie has submitted a motion in parliament urging all MSPs to condemn the council's position.

More than 140 couples in Scotland have already indicated that they want to register civil unions and many more are expected to follow.

The registrar general has confirmed that same sex couples who have already tied the knot abroad in a country where the law is recognised, such as Scandavian countries, are automatically registered in Scotland.

The first civil partnership ceremonies for couples in the UK took place in Northern Ireland on Monday, while the first in England and Wales will be held on Wednesday.

Watch a couple tie the knot in Edinburgh

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