Writing for PinkNews, First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, explains why the passage of a bill to legalise same-sex marriage in Scotland was “one of the proudest days in the history of Scotland.”

I believe that Tuesday 4th February 2014 will be remembered as one of the proudest days in the history of Scotland.

It was a day we took an enormous step towards being the kind of country we want to be – a country that not only believes in equality and fairness, but one in which those values are weaved into the very fabric of our society.

This is a bill about equality, but perhaps more importantly than that it is about love – the love between a couple, regardless of sexuality, belief or background.

It cannot be right that two people are denied the right to have their love enshrined in the institution of marriage, purely on the basis of their gender or their sexuality. That is an injustice that cannot be allowed to stand in a truly tolerant society.

Now, same sex couples will be able to choose whether to have a religious, a belief or a civil marriage ceremony, recognised by the state.

In preparing this bill, we have embarked on two of the most wide ranging consultations we have ever conducted, with thousands of submissions received and carefully considered.

Of course, not everyone agreed with the bill, and the debate has been wide ranging and thoughtful across Scotland – not just on the floor of the Parliament at Holyrood.

Scotland has a proud history as a tolerant society, and at the heart of that is religious tolerance too. Our nation is, and always has been, one that promotes and protects freedom of expression. That is why our bill protects those who do not wish to take part in same sex marriage ceremonies.

Indeed, the bill makes it clear that the introduction of same sex marriage in Scotland has no impact on freedom of speech.

And it puts in place an opt-in system. That means there are absolutely no circumstances where religious bodies will be forced to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies against their will.

The bill doesn’t just introduce same sex marriage but it also makes provision so that couples in an existing civil partnership registered in Scotland may change their civil partnership to a marriage, if they so wish.

Now that the Scottish Parliament has approved the bill we’ll work hard on implementation. This will include working closely with the UK Government to make the necessary changes to Equalities legislation. I look forward to seeing the first same sex marriage on Scottish soil as soon as possible.

I am proud that the Scottish Parliament has taken this progressive and hugely important decision in favour of equal rights in our country – a decision that will resonate beyond our borders and will place Scotland in the vanguard of nations committed to equality for all.

Alex Salmond is the First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the SNP.