Britain Now Has Its First Same-Sex Married Couples

Thanks to a quirk in the law the U.K. recognised some marriages at the stroke of midnight on Thursday, 13 March — two weeks before the first ceremonies will take place.

1. This is Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson. At midnight on Thursday 13 March they will become one of the first same-sex couples to have their marriage recognised as legal under UK law.

Same-sex couples getting married in England and Wales will have to wait until Saturday 29 March to hold their ceremony but a quirk in the law – first reported by BuzzFeed – means couples who married overseas will have their unions automatically recognised from 13 March onwards.

This includes Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, two university professors who married in Canada in 2003 and spent the last decade campaigning for their partnership to be recognised in Britain. On Thursday, thanks to the government’s decision to bring forward the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, that day will finally come.

“It’s like being turned into a pumpkin on the stroke of midnight,” Celia told BuzzFeed. “We’ll be sitting there in bed with a bottle of champagne and at the stroke of midnight we’ll turn into a married couple. We’re going away to a hotel, having a nice meal and the at midnight we’ll be wife and wife again!”

There’s no paperwork and no formal process. But when the day switches from Wednesday to Thursday all overseas same-sex marriages will at last be legally recognised.

And for the first time there will be couples in Britain who are able to call themselves husband and husband, or wife and wife in the eyes of the law.

2. The pair, who have been together since 1990, initially viewed marriage as a practical way of dealing with a long-distance relationship.

Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger

“Sue got a temporary job in Vancouver for two years and it just happened to be at the period when Canada was debating legalising same-sex marriage. The decision was initially really practical,” explains Celia.

“The gay movement in Canada won their battle [for marriage equality] and I was going backwards and forwards between England and Canada to be with Sue. Once you’ve been through 5 or 6 times a year and you get looked at funnily by the customs officials and then there were issues with apartments and bank accounts. Marriage was just the easy option.”

5. But on returning to the UK they wanted to remain recognised as a married couple and spent £25,000 taking their case to the high court, despite opposition from some LGBT groups.

Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson

“Any heterosexual couple who went to Canada and came back would be recognised as married. We wanted to know why we were being treated differently,” explains Celia.

So they launched a legal challenge in 2005 which reached the high court the following summer.

“What we got from the gay movement and Stonewall at the time were questions about why we were treating civil partnerships as second rate. Stonewall declined to support our challenge. [Stonewall chief executive] Ben Summerskill was adamantly opposed to supporting us.”

“We went to court and we lost because the judge said that we were discriminated against but that was justified in order to protect the traditional view of marriage. At the time the media gasped too: all the papers that we spoke to were really positive.”

The case left the couple, who now live in Yorkshire, with a legal bill of over £25,000 and the high costs and relative lack of support meant they were not able to take the fight to the next level.

8. Now they consider the legal battle for equality as complete, even though other problems remain.

AFP / Getty Images

“In England and Wales I can’t see that there is any more inequality in law to overcome. The discriminatory marriage laws were the last bastion of inequality,” says Celia. “But gay kids are still being bullied in school and too many kids are still feeling suicidal when they realise they’re gay. ”

And they’re concerned about delays in allowing couples in UK civil partnerships to change their relationship to ‘married’.

10. But while Celia says their decision to marry was initially “really unromantic…”

AFP / Getty Images

“…then it felt amazing. After we’d done it just felt different. I’d been out as lesbian since the early 1970s and it felt like I was becoming a full citizen.”

“It was equality, I never ever expected full equality in my lifetime. I never expected to marry someone I love.”

12. And from Thursday they’ll be officially married again – this time in their home nation.

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