Equal marriage advocates have welcomed the Scottish government’s much-awaited announcement this morning that it will be bringing forward legislation to allow gay couples to marry and remove current barriers for trans people.

The government will bring forward legislation that would allow gay couples to marry in civil ceremonies and religious ceremonies where faiths choose to permit it. The majority of MSPs have pledged to support such a change in the law.

The law would make Scotland the first part of the UK to allow gay couples to wed and would remove the need for trans people to divorce and form civil partnerships if they transition while married.

Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Equality Network, said: “Today is a proud day for Scotland. The Scottish Government have shown their determination to make Scotland a more progressive country. With cross-party support for equality in the Scottish Parliament we would expect that this change can be passed next year.

“Same-sex marriage is about equality and freedom. The freedom for couples, and religious and humanist groups that want to, to celebrate same-sex marriages. But equally, upholding the freedom of other religious groups to say no to same-sex marriages. That’s the right way for Scotland to deal with the different opinions on this.

“We welcome that religious and humanist groups that want to conduct same-sex marriages will be able to do so. We have no problem with a small amendment to the Equality Act to ensure that religious celebrants who disagree don’t have to conduct same-sex marriages. We fully expect the UK Government to cooperate to ensure that. We have always said that religious bodies and celebrants who do not want to conduct same-sex marriage should be free to opt out.

“In the Scottish Government’s consultation, two thirds of the proper consultation responses from Scotland were in favour of same-sex marriage. Consultation is not a numbers game though, and it’s not about petitions and postcards. The Scottish Government were right to take the time to carefully consider the all the points raised by consultation responses.”

In June the Equality Network announced that a majority of MSPs had signed its Equal Marriage Pledge, committing themselves to voting in favour of same-sex marriage. 74 MSPs have now said they will vote in favour, including the leaders of all the opposition parties. Nine MSPs remain opposed.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP said: “This is a small but important step for equality in Scotland. I’m sure there will be bumps on the road but Nicola Sturgeon can count on my support to deliver equality in marriage.

“These reasonable changes are about removing barriers and extending freedoms. It’s never been about compelling churches to conduct marriage ceremonies against their will. That’s why I will work with Nicola Sturgeon to secure changes to the UK Equality Act to cement religious freedoms if such amendments are needed.”

Opinion polls show consistent majority support for the move among the people of Scotland with the main opposition coming from religious leaders.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, referred to the proposals as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and launched a last-minute bid last week for a referendum, which was rejected by the Scottish cabinet.

Ross Wright, a Humanist Marriage celebrant said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government has chosen the side of love and equality in this step towards a fairer Scotland. We look forward to the quick passage of this legislation so that we can conduct the first Humanist same-sex marriage ceremonies in Scotland.”

Rabbi Mark Solomon of the Edinburgh Liberal Jewish Community, said: “This is a day of pride and joy for Scotland and all her LGBT citizens. It is a major step towards a fully equal and just society where the commitment of all loving couples is honoured. At a Jewish wedding we shout Mazal-tov (congratulations and good luck) when the bridegroom breaks the glass to end the ceremony. A huge Mazal-tov to the Scottish government and us all!”

Rev Jane Clarke, of the Metropolitan Community Church said: “I am delighted by this decision. At last I will be not be forced by the law to discriminate against the same-sex couples within my congregation. I am very proud to live in Scotland and very proud of this decision today.”

Grant Costello MSYP, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament which has campaigned for equal marriage rights said it was the “civil rights battle of our generation”.

He said: “Today the Scottish Government made it clear it stands with our generation on the side of equality. Scotland’s young people are overwhelmingly in favour of Equal Marriage. They want a Scotland where two people who love each other should be able to marry. We thank the Scottish Government for listening to Scotland’s young people and commit to working with them to make Equal Marriage a reality.”