Saturday 29 March 2014

The Bells Are Ringing

It’s a historical day for England and Wales. Today the first legal same-sex wedding ceremonies take place following the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act coming into force on March 13th.

My original idea to celebrate the occasion was to chronicle the history of same-sex marriage, but that information is already easily available online. What is missing is a list of names of the actual first same-sex couples to be legally married in each country. There are instances in history where same-sex couples were married, where one of the couple had assumed the identity of a gender opposite to his/her own, as in the two cases I mentioned three weeks ago in my Remembrance article. For this article I will deal only with the laws which specifically legalise same-sex marriage.

Even though the Netherlands was the first country to introduce same-sex marriage by law on 1st April 2001, they weren’t the first to legally perform them. That honour goes to Canada.

On 14 January 2001 two same-sex couples were married in the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto. The Ontario government refused to recognise the marriages as legal. The couples took their cases to court, and it took 2 years for Ontario to accept that the marriages were legal after a court ruled that denying them the right to marry was a violation of their rights, and that the marriages of the two couples – Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Elaine and Anne Vantour – should be recognised as being legal from the moment they took place, even though Ontario didn’t when Dutch same-sex marriage became legal a few months afterwards.

The new English law permits couples who married in countries where same-sex marriage is already legal became married in the eyes of English law from March 13th. This means it’s impossible to name the UK’s first same-sex married couple because hundreds of them became legal on that day. I suppose that honour could go to the first ever British citizen to marry his/her partner abroad. However, according to teh BBC live coverage of the event just after midnight, the UK's frst gay wedding was between Peter McGraith and David Cabreza.

Here is my list of the first same-sex married couples. This isn’t as comprehensive as I’d like as some information is contradictory and I need to dig around a bit to positively identify the first couples. The dates given are the dates when same-sex marriage came into effect in that country and the date on which the named couples were married. I have yet to verify the first couples married in Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Iceland and Brazil.

The Netherlands      1 April 2001
Four couples were married simultaneously in Amsterdam City Hall. They were :
Ton Jansen and Louis Rogmans,
Helene Faasen and Anne Marie Thus,
Peter Wittebrood-Lemke and Frank Wittebrood,
and another male couple.
Belgium          1 June 2003
Marion Huitbrecht and Christel Verswyvelen.
USA (Massachusetts)           17 May 2004
Massachusetts was the first state to legalise same-sex marriages. Not all US states recognise them.
            Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish
Spain              3 July 2005
Emilio Mendendez and Carlos Baturin German.
South Africa               30 November 2006
Vernon Gibbs and Tony Halls
(Vernon, a British citizen, becomes one of the many couples whose foreign marriage became legal in the UK on 13th March).
Portugal         5 June 2010
Teresa Paixao and Helena Pires.
Argentina       22 July 2010
Alex Freyre and Jose  Maria Di Bello.
Denmark        15 June 2012
(First church wedding) Steen Andersen and Stig Elling.
France            18 May 2013
Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau.
Uruguay         5 August 2013
A special licence was issued to a male couple, one of whom was terminally ill, who wished to remain anonymous. The first named couple are :
Rubén López and Mario Bonilla.
New Zealand  19 August 2013
In a joint ceremony :
Rachel Briscoe and Jess Ivess
Richard Rawstrom and Richard Andrew.

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