BRITAIN

Midnight marriages for gay couples as same-sex unions become legal in UK

Same-sex couples can't wait to take advantage of being allowed to wed in Britain, where the change in law has wide popular support

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 10:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 6:35am

Gay couples in Britain waited decades for the right to get married. When the opportunity came, it took just a few minutes to make history.

Londoners Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Treadway were among the first to tie the knot when Britain's new marriage law came into effect yesterday.

The two men wed in front of about 100 guests at their local town hall in the London borough of Camden - one of several locales holding late-night ceremonies to mark the occasion. By 10 minutes past midnight they were married, with a kiss and a registrar's declaration: "You are now husband and husband."

It's a sign of a profound shift in attitudes in a country that little more than a decade ago had a law on the books banning the "promotion" of homosexuality.

"Some people say, 'You gays are trying to redefine marriage,' but the definition of marriage has already changed," said Treadway, a 20-year-old student originally from Los Angeles. "Now it's between two people who love each other."

Most Britons agree. Polls show about two-thirds of people in the country back gay unions, and support is highest among the young. Britain has seen none of the large street protests against gay marriage that have taken place in France.

Same-sex marriage has been welcomed with enthusiasm by Britain's Conservative-led government. Rainbow flags went up over two government buildings on Friday in what Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called "a small symbol to celebrate a massive achievement".

Treadway and Adl-Tabatabai, a 32-year-old TV producer from London, were married by the mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson, who declared the occasion "a huge step forward in civil rights for our country and also a big acknowledgment that love conquers all".

It would have been unthinkable in the 1980s, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government passed a law banning schools and local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality or depicting it as "a pretended family relationship".

That law wasn't repealed until 2003. Yet when Parliament legalised same-sex marriage in July, it was by a wide margin and with the backing of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

There was some heated rhetoric but Britons overwhelmingly supported gay marriage.

Some cite the transitional step of civil partnership, a compromise introduced in 2005 that gave gay couples the same legal protections and rights as heterosexual married partners - but not the label of marriage.

The government also defused some opposition by exempting religious groups from conducting same-sex weddings unless they choose to opt in. Quakers and Liberal Judaism are among the few who have done so. The Church of England, the country's biggest faith, remains divided on the issue and does not conduct same-sex weddings.

Britain is the 15th country to legalise same-sex marriage, which is also legal in several US states. But the march of gay rights is not universal - several countries, including Uganda and Russia, have recently introduced anti-gay laws.

In Britain, some argue that true equality won't have been reached until a gay couple can be married by a priest in Westminster Abbey, as Prince William and Kate Middleton were in 2011. Some gay-rights activists think embracing marriage is caving in to a heterosexist world order.