David Cameron has hailed the first same-sex marriages in England and Wales as sending a "powerful message" about equality in Britain. The law changed at midnight, with a number of gay couples vying to claim the title of being the first to be married in Britain by trying to time it perfectly so their vows were said just seconds after the clock struck 12.
I fought for #EqualMarriage for over 20 years. It was often a lonely struggle. I am so happy that love & justice have finally prevailed— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) March 29, 2014
The Prime Minister said the reform was necessary because "when people's love is divided by law, it is that law that needs to change". Writing in Pink News he said "this weekend is an important moment for our country" because "we will at last have equal marriage in our country". Cameron, who has faced opposition from some in the Conservative Party about his backing for the change, said: "This is something that has been very important to me. "I have been so lucky to find the most incredible lifelong partner in Sam and our marriage has been a very special part of the commitment we have made to each other.
Happy New Era! #EqualMarriage
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"Let auld discrimination be forgot and never brought to mind..."— David Schneider (@davidschneider) March 29, 2014
"Of course any marriage takes work, requires patience and understanding, give and take - but what it gives back in terms of love, support, stability and happiness is immeasurable. That is not something that the state should ever deny someone on the basis of their sexuality. When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change.
"The introduction of same-sex civil marriage says something about the sort of country we are. It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth. It also sends a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality.
"It clearly says 'you are equal' whether straight or gay. That is so important in trying to create an environment where people are no longer bullied because of their sexuality - and where they can realise their potential, whether as a great mathematician like Alan Turing, a star of stage and screen like Sir Ian McKellen or a wonderful journalist and presenter like Clare Balding."
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force in July last year but it was not until March 13 this year when couples were able to register their intention to marry under the Act for the first time. While whoever says the words "I do" first can claim the title of first gay couple to be wed in the UK, other couples who previously married abroad have already had their unions recognised. On March 13 the law in England and Wales changed to recognise same-sex marriages performed overseas.
Midnight! #equalmarriage 4 all, and a tax allowance 2. Form an orderly queue ladies AND gents -twice as many people 2 spend £200 with ;-)— stellacreasy (@stellacreasy) March 29, 2014
Sue Wilkinson, 60, and Celia Kitzinger, 57, married in Canada in 2003 and fought for eight years to have their union recognised here. They took their fight to the High Court in 2006, when a judge refused to make a declaration that their marriage was valid in this country. But, due to the change in the law, their marriage became legally binding at one minute past midnight on March 13.
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Among the first couples set to take advantage of the legalisation were Peter McGraith and David Cabreza, who said they wanted to wed as soon as the marriage laws changed. Ahead of their ceremony at Islington Town Hall McGraith said: "We are thrilled to be getting married. It is a mark of significant social progress in the UK that the legal distinction between gay and straight relationships has been removed. Very few countries afford their gay and lesbian citizens equal marriage rights and we believe that this change in law will bring hope and strength to gay men and lesbians in Nigeria, Uganda, Russia, India and elsewhere, who lack basic equality and are being criminalised for their sexual orientation."
Vying for the title of first same-sex couple to marry in Britain were Brighton couple Andrew Wale and Neil Allard, at a ceremony in the city's famous Royal Pavilion. Meanwhile, broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and her civil partner Debbie Toksvig will renew their vows at a public event at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank in London this morning.
I’m off to sleep, but when I wake up, #equalmarriage will be a reality. And that’ll mean Britain is a better place.— Mark Ferguson (@Markfergusonuk) March 28, 2014
Rainbow flags will be hung all over the country to celebrate the occasion, with one flying at the heart of Westminster. The flag - adopted as a symbol of the gay community in 1970s' San Francisco - was being flown above the Cabinet Office and Scotland Office. Scotland has also legislated to allow same-sex marriages, with the first ceremonies expected to take place later this year.