LONDONAfter legalizing same-sex marriages in July 2013, the first official marriage ceremonies in England and Wales took place right after midnight on March 29, 2014.
At Islington Town Hall in London, at 12:03 a.m., Peter McGrath and his partner of 17 years, David Cabreza, were married in front of dozens of family and friends. They then went outside to greet the press and about 100 people gathered to witness the historic occasion.
Among those in the crowd were about a dozen African LGBTI activists from the Diamond Group, cheering them on.
Peter Tatchell, one of England's best-known gay activists, was a witness at the marriage and spoke to the media after. He was proud to be joined by the LGBTI activists from Africa, who feared for their own lives in their home countries, including Uganda. Tatchell and the married couple pointed out how important it is to continue to fight for LGBT rights all over the world, not just for marriage rights in England.
On March 19, 1992, Tatchell and other activists organized a protest against marriage inequality, by having five same-sex couples file for licenses at Westminster Registry Office in London. They were refused, but that was the opening shot for the push for marriage equality, Tatchell said. "It has been a long, hard struggle, often lonely," he said.
The African LGBTI activists were involved in the campaign for same-sex marriage, too, and for rights in Russia, Tatchell said. Their presence here was personally, for them, very important, Tatchell said. Their signs read "Congratulations Peter and David," and "Thank you for supporting same-sex marriage."
England legalized civil partnerships in 2005, providing the same legal rights as marriage, but activists felt the separation created a second-class version of matrimony.
Despite opposition in his own Conservative Party, Prime Minister David Cameron supports same-sex marriage. Last year he said this, according to Reuters: "It's been a real pleasure to ... deliver this landmark social change for our country, which to me still comes back to the simple word of commitment."
Meanwhile, the Church of England has "barred priests from conducting gay and lesbian weddings or giving a formal blessing for a same-sex marriage performed by local government registrars. Only an informal blessing would be allowed," Reuters said.
Couples who had previously entered into civil partnerships can convert those partnerships to marriage. Scotland passed a marriage equality bill in February. Once marriages begin later this year, marriage equality will be the law in the United Kingdom, except for Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Campaign noted.
The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001; now 17 countries have such unions, including Scotland, which just passed its law in February.
Video for Windy City Times by Tracy Baim:
Islington, England gay marriage 3-29-2014 at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times 3-29-2014: Peter Tatchell on first marriages at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .