I had originally planned to write a straightforward account of my first time at a civil partnership for this Oral Histories piece. This month my best friend separated from his wife and as a result I was not sure I could write the celebration I had originally intended. I was the best man for his wedding, at which the photographer was a trans woman and the Father’s speech so detailed the Groom observed that the Bride’s CV would be available on the way out. It was a wonderful day, and one I shall always remember with real fondness. Yet …
At the civil partnership I was sat in the back row, partly because I was late in, and partly because it is the best place for the naughty kids. The setting was a converted farmhouse in the Cotswolds. I settled in to read the order of events to find that one of the songs to be played in the service was by the Indigo Girls. The naughty kid came to the fore and I said, with a glint in my eye, “we’ll probably have to do the k.d. lang walk as we leave.” To which someone replied, “what’s the k.d. lang walk?” Never attempt humour at a wedding/civil partnership.
This is a lesson I should have already learned. In the speech I gave at my best friend’s wedding I took time to comment on our rather elaborate outfits. We were dressed, basically, as Mr Darcy because the Bride had a thing about the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. She was not so happy when I revealed this little bit of insider information. I then went on to say that, over the years my brother had been engaged, the current favourite film of the happy couple would determine the potential marriage outfit. One year there was even going to be a Dances With Wolves style wedding. Eek! Then luckily, I added, he turned out to be gay so the family did not have to go through all that. The room was completely silent except for one guffaw at the back.
Always the back.
What I observed from the back row at the civil partnership was an event that recalled many weddings I had been to. And, really, that was the point. Watching my friends Abi and Paula take their vows was a moving experience, and not just because they are an adorable couple. It was also because of the very fact that they can. We are in Britain blessed that the government passed a law to allow civil partnerships and did not take it to the popular vote, as has happened in so many of not-so-united States. The law was passed based on the principle of equality, and as anyone in a minority knows, this needs protecting from the majority and not turned over to them. The result is not democracy … but mob rule.
Abi and Paula’s civil partnership was a pre-Christmas affair, and it retained the magical feeling of Christmas. The mulled wine we were served after the ceremony – in cups that had been hand-painted with each guest’s name, no less – certainly bolstered that feeling. As we gathered around, I realised what a superb advertisement this would be for the very idea of the gay-straight alliance. In fact, sexuality was not the issue; it merely determined who was getting hitched to whom. That truly is progressive and it certainly reflects the world of so many people I know, who are beyond being hung up on sexuality and simply accept it as fact.
The after-dinner speeches were as interesting – and as dull – as one would expect. There was no banner-waving about what a great thing it was that such a union was possible. It was about the people there, which is as it should have been. Christianity crept in, but that is because Abi’s father is a minister and she a Christian. That said, Christianity made far more of an impact at my best friend’s wedding where the Bride and Groom were definitely atheists. There was no hypocrisy here, which I reminded myself when St Paul – not exactly a friend of the homo – was quoted. Still, it was a fitting quote. In isolation.
I have been to many weddings in my life. My mother is a ninth child and so one would expect that. But I have never been to one that was so genuinely warm. Even at my best friend’s wedding I had to ward off the evil-eye of the mother-in-law, who thought of me as a second-class citizen as well as other things I will not commit to this page. The Daily Mail had done its work on her.
In the end, each ceremony is equal to the relationship it celebrates. Whether one is behind the idea of marriage, or sees civil partnerships as simply apeing heterosexuality, is beside the point. It is the right to it that matters. What happens after that is up to the married couple alone.