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My 2014: 'Being able to say 'my husband' makes it clear that we're really married'

WHAT Robert and Nathan Gale did four years ago looked very much like a wedding.

They hired The Hub in Edinburgh as a venue, asked friends and relatives to deliver the entertainment and speeches, provided Ben & Jerry's ice cream as favours and had a cake with two male confectionery figures standing on top. They also wrote their own vows, including: "Make you laugh more than I make you cry." There was, recalls Nathan, plenty of bawling. His Uncle Bill said it was the most beautiful wedding he had ever attended.

Afterwards, sometime during a honeymoon spent whale-watching in Vancouver, they started calling each other "husband". They wore matching wedding rings and took the same surname, Gale (the maiden name of Robert's mother, who passed away at the time of his birth). But in law, they are not yet married. They are not husband and husband. Rather, they are civil partners. And that, to them, is not enough. Hence these two await with enthusiasm the passing of the equal marriage bill either this year or, if it is delayed, in early 2015. Then, they can do it all over again: the vows, the partying, the speeches, the cake. Only this time it will be more of a ­political statement than a personal one.

Doing it again, they say, will be about celebrating the passing of a bill for which they - in particular Nathan, who works for the Equality Network - have campaigned.

As yet, they don't know where they will marry or how. They even contemplate whether a group wedding with other couples might be a good statement. "I like the idea of the main registry office," muses Nathan. "A big part of the ceremony will be a recognition of how far we've come and how much it's taken to get there."

When they had their "wedding" back in 2009, Nathan recalls, he had no expectation about an actual marriage being a possibility sometime in the future. "I didn't think that it was on the cards really. We thought of civil partnership as marriage, because that was what was available."

Now however they want proper marriage - not because it will make any difference to their relationship, but in the name of equality. "For me the big issue is that it's not an issue," says Robert. "If it is the same thing, then call it the same thing. If it's not then we've got a bigger problem."

There are difficulties associated with the current situation. Forms don't always offer a civil partnership tick-box, and not everyone understands what the partnership means. "Often when we're travelling abroad and we say we're civil partners, people say: 'What? I don't know what that is,'" says Nathan. Others assume they are brothers.

"I think being able to say 'my husband'," he adds, "makes it really clear that we're married and in a relationship. That has already been helpful."

The UK's first same-sex marriages will take place in England this year, on March 29. In Scotland, where civil partnerships were introduced in 2004, the Marriage and Civil Partnerships Bill is currently in stage two of its processing, in which amendments are considered by Holyrood's equal opportunities committee. It is due to return to Parliament in February where it will be debated and a vote will be taken on whether to pass the bill.

It's predicted that the first marriages will occur in early 2015, but Nathan is not sitting back and assuming that it's all going to happen smoothly. "I'm anxious," he says, "about people proposing amendments - for instance, proposing that civil registrars can opt out from doing same-sex marriages if they don't agree with it. We can't be complacent. We need to make sure that we get a good bill, and there are no roll-backs on equality."

This step forward in the UK is made against a global backdrop that doesn't look nearly so positive for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. In 2013, Russia passed a law banning "gay propaganda" and witnessed a surge in homophobic hate crime. In India, gay sex was recriminalised.

"It's also really bad in much of Africa," says Nathan, "which feels particularly depressing because we exported so many of our homophobic laws to these countries.

"I'm disappointed that the UK Government hasn't done anything more to reach out and to say our laws were wrong. and that there has been so little speaking out about what's going on in Russia."

The Gales are a talented and driven pair, as involved in disabled rights as they are in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues. Robert, who formerly worked under the surname Softley, is a highly successful writer and performer, whose show at last year's Fringe, If These Spasms Could Speak, was a touching and personal account of everyday life as a disabled person. Robert has cerebral palsy, caused by lack of oxygen at his birth.

The couple also have a cracking story of the day they met in 2005. It was the week of the G8 summit at Gleneagles. Nathan was performing in a production of a play written by Robert about a 23-year-old activist was shot dead at the 2001 summit in Genoa. Watching from the audience, Robert was struck by the young man who played the role. They met up later and the following day, both became involved in some protests and later found themselves stuck in a Gleneagles pub with no transport home. A madcap road trip on Robert's electric wheelchair ensued. Thus, a romance was born.

Asked what makes for a good marriage, Nathan sums it up in one word: compromise. "I think it's nice when you make compromises for another person that you love. My parents have a good marriage. I've always looked up to them.

"I guess I learned from them that you've got to really work at it. I think just looking at them and their relationship was one of the reasons I was keen to get married. beecause I'd seen that it was something really positive and lovely."

Of course, not every same-sex couple wants to be married. Some are quite happy with a civil partnership, and in their own eyes, Robert and Nathan are already married.

What difference did the civil partnership ceremony make to their relationship? "I think we both felt like our relationship had more validity," says Nathan. "In other people's eyes as a gay couple, sometimes your relationship isn't given as much respect as other mixed-sex relationships. Having a civil partnership got rid of that - a bit."

Perhaps equal marriage itself will help a bit more.

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