Wednesday 26 December 2012

On the 2nd Gay Day of Christmas ...

… my blogger gave to me …

A pair of turtle doves have been a symbol of love for centuries. In several countries around the world this year one of the main topics debated by politicians has been gay marriage. In the UK December is the month in which lgbt couples were given the right to register civil partnerships in 2005.

When the first civil partnerships were held there was intensive media coverage, and most (if not all) of the local tv stations around the country featured at least one ceremony in their news broadcasts on that day, interviewing the happy couple. Quite a few of the actual first civil partners did not want the media coverage and publicity and their privacy was respected.

Even though the Civil Partnership Act came into force officially on 21st December 2005 there was confusion over the rule regarding a waiting period between giving a notice to register and the actual registration ceremony. Because of this in Northern Ireland and Scotland partnerships were registered before the 21st (19th and 20th respectively).

However, the first legal civil partnership actually took place on 5th December 2005. A special dispensation was given to Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp of Worthing, and it is this couple who I present as my Two Turtle Doves. And it’s a love story with special significance for today, Boxing Day.
Matthew (left) and Chris

Matthew and Chris met in 1993 in a Brighton nightclub. They hit it off immediately and became friends. However, they didn’t become a couple until 5 years later because Chris wasn’t sure of his sexuality and regarded himself as straight. Matthew persevered, and every now and then raised the subject of a gay relationship.

In 1998 both Matthew and Chris were going to spend Christmas Day on their own, so they decided to celebrate it together. With no expectations other than companionship both men felt the time was right, and in the early hours of Boxing Day 1998 they made love for the first time.

On St. Valentine’s Day 2005 things started to test their love. It wasn’t the fault of any person. Matthew complained of a stomach pain. It went on for several weeks and doctors couldn’t find anything wrong at first. They even suggested Matthew take an HIV test.

It wasn’t until October that an inoperable cancer was found beneath Matthew’s liver, and it would only be a matter of time before it took his life.

Matthew and Chris had discussed marriage of some kind several times, but gay marriage wasn’t, and isn’t, legal in the UK. The Civil Partnership had been passed and was due to come into force so they planned a ceremony for 2006 or 2007. But Matthew’s health deteriorated quickly and it looked as if he wouldn’t see the New Year.

Time was not on their side. They put their case to the local register office who confirmed that there were means put in place for partnerships to be performed without the waiting period in exceptional circumstances. They realised that these were indeed exceptional circumstances and arranged for the ceremony to take place on the day the act came into force without going through the waiting period – 5th December 2005.

It was a historic moment. The first civil partnership in the UK. Even the registrar showed great pride when remarking on the occasion. It was truly a great moment for Matthew, Chris and their family and friends.

That night a double bed was wheeled into Matthew’s room in the hospital and he and Chris spent their first night together as civil partners. In the morning Matthew didn’t wake up. The families quickly gathered at his bedside as he slipped away.

In the words of Chris “For Matthew and I, getting married wasn’t about gay rights – it was about equal rights to be with someone you want to be with”.

On this 2nd Day of Christmas I hope that the symbolic turtle doves give hope that everyone can be with the one they love.

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