On 29 March 2014, the first same-sex weddings took place in England. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was introduced in England and Wales, allowing same-sex couples to finally marry just like couples of opposite sexes. Before this law, same-sex couples were allowed to commit to one another through a civil partnership and although the differences between a civil partnership and marriage are only minor, the change was welcomed by the LGBT(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community worldwide. 1,400 same-sex weddings took place within the first three months of the change in law.
One year on, how has the change in law affected same-couples?
In two days time I will be walking down the aisle towards my beautiful bride (Editors note: at the time of publication, these two fabulous women are now married! Congratulations!). I’ve never been a fan of the civil partnership for my own situation, for me it wasn’t equality and it isn’t taken seriously by a lot of non-LGBT people. I remember comments from people on the bus as I listened in “But they aren’t really married, it’s just a civil partnership” and “You’re not getting one of those civil partnership things are you?”. I have friends who are civil partners, they see themselves as wife and wife, as do I. Their union is no less than that of my married friends who are straight, yet for some they are simply “that gay couple”.
As soon as the law changed last year to allow same-sex couples to legally marry and have the same recognition as other married couples I started planning my proposal. A few weeks later she said “yes” and we began planning our big day. As a couple we aren’t overtly “out”, people who know us know we love each other very much, but Joe Public passing us in the street would assume we were simply friends. So the thought of having to deal with any incidents during our planning made us both very nervous. However, we assumed with the law change and ten years of civil partnerships under it’s belt, the wedding industry and it’s providers would be more ready than we were.
We began our planning with a trip to a wedding fayre. We were greeted at the door with a mailing list to sign and a goody bag for the bride. “Which one is the bride?” we were asked, “We both are” was our response, “We’re getting married” nodding to each other. The girl flushed, got embarrassed and quickly gave us a goody bag each. We moved around the tables eyeing up the different offerings of photo booths, wedding decorations and ideal honeymoon destinations. When we got to the wedding stationary table we were greeted warmly by the owner’s assistant who asked which of us was getting married, “We both are”. When were we getting married “April 15th”. “What a coincidence,” she smiled. We explained we were marrying each other and her face dropped. “Oh, uhmm, well….” She quickly made her excuses and passed us over to someone else. Later we were able to laugh about it but at the time it ruined the moment. A wedding fayre is a chance to start getting in the mood, to start thinking about colours and themes and to begin planning how the day is going look. Instead we were left embarrassed. Luckily, after moving on we found our wedding photographer at the same fayre who immediately put us at ease and made us feel very special. Our pre-wedding shoot was fantastic and we can’t wait to see her at work on our big day.
The practice of announcing ourselves as a couple to more and more strangers has actually helped us to become more confident with others and to be a little bit more ‘out’.
The thing that has surprised us most is the lack of preparation for same-sex couples in the wedding industry (at least in the North- East where we live). We found our perfect venue eventually and after speaking to the wedding coordinater we sat down to fill in our booking form. It began with basic details, names, address, etc of the “Bride” and then the “Groom”. We crossed out “Groom” and wrote in “Other Bride”. We had not been the first same-sex wedding (or civil partnership) at the venue so it was nothing new to the coordinator that same-sex couples would be interested in the venue. The lack of an appropriate form spoiled the excitement of what we were actually filling in at that moment. Neither of us can remember much about the day we went to see the venue, what we talked about with the coordinator or how we felt when we realised we had found our perfect wedding place. All we can really remember is the form saying “Bride and Groom”.
Despite these few little hiccups we have had an amazing time planning our wedding. On the whole, service providers have been wonderful, the bridal dress shops especially have been amazing. The excitement of trying on every offering in the shop and the realisation that I had found THE dress was made more magical having my partner with me. Thankfully she has the memory of a goldfish when it comes to fashion so she can no longer remember what I look like. I can’t wait to see her face when she sees me for the first time that day. Like any other couple we have had the same stresses with wedding cakes, the joys of sending out invitations and the excitement of booking our honeymoon. Friends have joined in our excitement counting down the months, weeks and (scarily) the final days. In that excitement we have been asked some awkward questions and at times, some downright awfully offensive ones too.
We’ve had the usual
“Who is wearing the dress?” – Me, my partner is wearing a beautifully girly outfit.
“Who is walking down the aisle?” – We both are, we are both brides.
“What’s a Gay wedding like?” – I don’t know, we are simply having a wedding.
And the slightly uncomfortable
“Will you both be Mrs?” – We’re both women, so yes.
“Will you have to get a divorce if it doesn’t work out, like a normal marriage?” – We are planning on a lifetime of happiness together. However, it is a normal marriage, just like your marriage. If it doesn’t work out, yes, we will have to get a divorce, just like you.
And finally the question we dread
“It’s not a real marriage though is it?” – yes, yes, a thousand times YES!
Couples already in a civil partnership have the option to convert to a legal marriage. This in itself produces some difficult decisions. One couple have differing views on converting their civil partnership to marriage. Hannelie wants to be able to call Charlotte her ‘wife’ instead of ‘civil partner’, while Charlotte is unsure about whether she wants to adopt what she sees as a heterosexual term for their relationship.
“Part of it is about taking a positive stand and declaring that we are a long-term, monogamous relationship that deserves to be treated with as much respect as a straight marriage.” – Hannelie
“I think it’s weird that our relationship is valued more when we fit some kind of heterosexual paradigm than it is when we don’t.” – Charlotte.
As we finish our last minute preparations and get ready to head to our hotel tomorrow we both are praying for the usual things: that we haven’t forgot anything, sunshine and no drunk dancing on the table. We are also hoping for a few extra things – that people will recognise and respect our marriage equally and that in the near future couples will be able to simple say “We’re getting married” without any awkward responses or confusion.
I love my partner with all my heart and I cannot wait to call her my wife.