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Same-Sex Couples Say 'I Do' in Britain

December 22, 2005|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Rock star Elton John and longtime partner David Furnish led the march up the aisle Wednesday as an estimated 700 same-sex couples in Britain registered their unions on the first day that civil partnerships became, with remarkably little rancor, legal throughout the country.

Britain became the seventh European country to allow homosexuals to register either marriages or civil partnerships under the law.

The law took effect in England, where most Britons live, and Wales on Wednesday. The civil unions began Monday in Northern Ireland and Tuesday in Scotland.

"This is a modern, progressive step forward for the country, and I'm proud we did it," Prime Minister Tony Blair said at a news conference. In an earlier newspaper column, he called the Civil Partnership Act approved by his government long overdue.

John, 58, and Furnish, 43, who live in a $20-million country estate outside London, were attended by their parents and a small group of friends at the ceremony, which was held in Windsor's 17th century Guildhall, where Charles, the prince of Wales, and Camilla Parker Bowles were wed in April.

John and Furnish then left by Rolls-Royce for their nearby estate, where they held a star-studded party under two huge tents. The guest list included a wealth of names from the worlds of entertainment, sports and fashion, among them Elizabeth Hurley, Victoria Beckham and Rod Stewart. The pink-champagne reception reportedly set the couple back $1.75 million.

"Rocket Man and Wife: Elton Ties the Knot," said the front-page headline in London's Evening Standard, with a photo of a waving John in silver-tie and Furnish in black-tie, both beaming in complementing morning suits. "Of course they kissed. It was just like any other marriage service and it was wonderfully happy," friend Jay Jopling was quoted as saying afterward.

John was married for four years in the 1980s to Renate Blauel. He received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1998.

Another celebrity who entered into a civil partnership, Shakespearean actor Antony Sher, registered with his partner of 19 years, Greg Doran. Sher said it was "a little bit of history being made, not just for the gay movement, but for the human rights movement."

But some gay activists say the new statute doesn't go far enough. They denounced the differing treatment of heterosexual and homosexual couples before the law.

"Civil partnerships are for same-sex couples only. Straights are excluded. Conversely, marriage remains reserved for heterosexuals, to the exclusion of gays. The differential treatment ... is enshrined in law. Welcome to segregation, UK-style," Peter Tatchell of the group OutRage! wrote this week in the Guardian.

But anger at the law was otherwise muted in this country, where many officials in the Church of England have long preached tolerance toward homosexuality and the major political parties vie to have gay politicians prominent in their ranks. Opposition among conservatives came mostly from religious traditionalists.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith, accused the government of undermining marriage. In some Calvinist districts on islands off Scotland, registrars declined to perform ceremonies when registering couples.

Stephen Green, director of the British evangelical group Christian Voice, was quoted as saying the partnerships were "an absolute abomination" that would disgust "ordinary people."

The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain have legalized same-sex marriages; Germany, France and Switzerland have laws that recognize homosexual unions without calling them marriages.

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Times staff writer Janet Stobart contributed to this report.

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