Campaigners have hailed as a 'historic moment' the passing of the first stage of the Bill that will legalise same sex marriage by 2015.

The proposed legislation cleared the major hurdle tonight with the support of a majority of politicians at Holyrood and is being seen by supporters as a achievement for equality between gay and straight people.

The vote for the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill to allow equal marriage saw 98 MSPs in favour, just 15 against and five abstentions. It means same sex marriage is on course to be legal by 2015

It followed an impassioned debate which saw major contributions from gay, lesbian or bisexual members of the Scottish Parliament, including Tory leader Ruth Davidson, SNP MSPs Marco Biagi, Kevin Stewart, and Jim Eadie, and Patrick Harvie of the Greens at the Scottish Parliament.

Earlier, a crowd of people, many dressed in colourful outfits and waving placards held a final rally outside the Scottish Parliament in an event organised by the campaign group, Equality Network.

Tom French, Policy Coordinator for Equality Network, said: "Tonight the Scottish Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to back same-sex marriage and uphold the principle that we should all be equal under the law.

"This vote is a huge step forward which will send out a strong message that LGBT people are equal and valued members of our society. While there is still more work to do to improve the bill and ensure it becomes law, LGBT people across the country will be celebrating this significant milestone in the journey towards full equality."

Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil said the vote was the right thing to do if Scotland aspires to become an "equal and tolerant society."

Mr Neil added: "It is encouraging we have secured the support of Parliament at stage one of the bill and that we have agreed the general principles.

"It is an important step on the journey, but we will continue to work closely with the Parliament as the bill goes forward.

He said it was important the Bill makes it clear that there is no duty to "opt in" to the new arrangements and marriage celebrants would not find themselves falling foul of the law if they did not wish to do so.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Jim Hume said: "Today's vote was a big step forward for equality and a move towards the fairer Scotland that we all want to see."

Alyn Smith MEP, who is also gay, pointed out that Scotland is on course to join New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Norway and Sweden in legalising equal marriage.

TheSNP politician said: "Today's vote is another historic day for our parliament, our country and for everyone who has campaigned over the years for equality.

"Marriage is, for me, about two people who love each other and I'm delighted that our representatives in the Scottish Parliament have voted on the same basis. I have full confidence that we will also see the bill passed at committee stage and when it comes again to the full parliament at stage three."

The charity Stonewall Scotland said it was the 'last piece' in the legislative jigsaw providing equality for gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender groups of people.

Director Colin Macfarlane, said "This is a truly historic step forward. We're absolutely delighted that MSPs have demonstrated overwhelmingly that they're in touch with the twenty-first century.

However, the Church of Scotland reiterated its view that marriage should be between men and women.

The Reverend Dr Alan Hamilton said: "Until any future General Assembly of the Church of Scotland decides otherwise, that remains our position. But our commitment to care for all people, gay and straight is no less. We stand against homophobia."

Dr Hamilton, Convener of the Church of Scotland's Legal Questions Committee added: "We also recognise that there is a wide spread of public opinion about whether legalising same sex marriage is the right thing, and that spread of public opinion is reflected among members of our congregations across the country. One thing is very clear and that is there is not unanimous support for this legislation in Scotland.

"As the bill progresses through Holyrood, The Church of Scotland will continue to be a constructive voice in the national debate about it."

He said robbust and detailed legal assurances and protection would be sought for those who do not wish to conduct same sex marriages as a matter of conscience.

Rev David Robertson, minister of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, said: "This is a very sad day for Scotland and for Scottish democracy.

"The Scottish Parliament, without due consultation of the Scottish people and with the electorate not actually having the opportunity to vote, have made this fundamental change in Scottish society.