A Gay Marriage in London?

With Barack Obama making a bold strategic judgement in stating his support for gay marriage, even while David Cameron quietly omits the issue from the Queen's speech, I speak to a London couple whose civil partnership is rapidly approaching, and Conservative MP David Burrowes who will vote against the bill when it comes to the Commons.

In August of this year Donny and Chris are getting married. The venue is decided (Islington Town Hall), outfits discussed (should they match?), rings debated (do they symbolise love, or ownership), invitations sent and the months accelerate into the summer and a special day.

Of course, Donny and Chris aren't really getting married, not in the eyes of the law - they're getting a civil partnership. But does this matter?

Chris Dicken, 35, is a web designer and lives with Donny Wong, 38, in Highbury.

He says: "I don't really care. We are calling it marriage. The fact that people don't want me to call it marriage makes me want to call it marriage."

After a moment of reflection: "Actually it's important. It's a false line."

Someone else who appears to think it important is Prime Minister David Cameron who last year announced a consultation, not on whether to legislate for gay marriage but on how to implement it.

David Burrowes, MP for Enfield Southgate, one of several Conservative MPs unhappy with the off-manifesto move, says: "I don't think it's necessary. We have in place civil partnership which recognises gay relationships."

Civil partnerships, available only to gay couples, were introduced by the Labour government in 2004 and provide the similar legal rights enjoyed by married couples. But is this equality?

Raising the spectre of another civil rights movement, Donny says: "Separate is not equal. Should we also have straight people sit at the front of the bus and gay people sit at the back? Or have different bathrooms and drinking fountains?"

There are some in opposition to Cameron's plans whose conservatism simply says 'but being gay is just wrong' or, at least, 'gay marriage is just wrong'.

Donny has a Chinese American background, growing up in California, and his parents, though accepting within the household, struggle with his sexuality in public. When the couple met his parents' friends during a visit they were forced to put on a performance.

"Chris was just a friend travelling with me and at the same time I was being set up, pressured to get married to a woman."

Chris's own background gives him an insight into the more vocal opposition to gay marriage - certain denominations of organised religion. He grew up as part of an evangelical Christian community in Surrey; the kind where speaking in tongues "did come into it" and where homosexuality is a 'sin'. Since those days he has maintained his faith and become involved in groups including Young Lesbian and Gay Christians where faith and sexuality need not conflict. Even among his old friends many can accept his and Donny's relationship while maintaining their particular beliefs - up to a point.

"My friends too have been supportive. Problems arose when inviting people to the wedding.

"What we are doing is encroaching on God's territory. This is one occasion when they are forced to face up to what they think as about gay people.

"One person who is fairly senior is not coming [to the wedding]. It would be too difficult for him."

It's an extreme example of our personal lives and experiences conflicting with our world view.

Of course, as Donny says, we must be careful not to paint Christians with a "broad brush". There are many different shades and textures to religion.

David Burrowes co-founded the Conservative Christian Fellowship, a Christian Tory umbrella group, and, while he says he supports the commitment in civil partnerships ("there are many gay couples that are more committed than many heterosexual couples"), he will vote with his conscience when the marriage bill goes before the commons in a free vote.

"My conscience view is that it is right that [marriage] is about a man and a woman, because that is its purpose; its purpose being for the union of a man and a woman, a particular relationship evidenced by having children. It's one [view] which the state has followed."

The proposals, as laid out, will introduce a new distinction between civil marriage, open to gay and straight couples, and religious marriage, open only to straight couples. This distinction, for Burrowes, will mean the end of the currently "unified" concept.

To complicate matters further, civil partnership ceremonies, which can be performed in a church, will also be retained. It is unclear why the government has opted for this particular arrangements; preventing churches from performing gay marriage ceremonies if they so wish. The Quakers have already announced that they would gladly do so.

In part this will be down to the UK's interwoven church and state; the religious aspect of marriage being closely linked with the legal. Changing this situation is not something the Tories are about to embark upon.

It will also be a tactical decision to protect churches from human rights challenges in the European Court - a danger that Burrowes says will remain. He also fears that teachers will be forced to teach a concept of marriage which contradicts their beliefs.

"It could cause intolerance of people's views. We can teach in schools different relationships. But here we are in danger of diminishing the rights of people to manifest their faith."

Whether or not adding gay marriage to the curriculum is "Orwellian", as Burrowes suggests, can be disputed. After all, new values are already imposed on teachers as attitudes change with time. Nor is the 'purpose' of woman, man and marriage something which any longer enjoys a consensus. Gay couples raise children in today's society.

Donny points out: "Human society has been around much longer than the church. Things change. It's only two thousand years old."

So would Burrowes support gay marriage were popular support proven?

"If we had a referendum that supported gay marriage then I would follow, as a democrat. The power of democracy is that I represent. But most of my constituents are supportive of my view."

And when Cameron forces the legislation through parliament, will Chris and Donny 'upgrade' their impending civil partnership?

Well, that's yet to be decided. For now, they're getting married.