A Family Affair: Our vows show this love is so strong

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The Independent Culture
Chris Farrah-Mills, 37, owns a gay bookshop in Brighton and another shop in Lewes. He lives in Hove with his partner Rick Farrah-Mills, 31. Rick helps run the two businesses. As a mark of commitment, they decided to have a gay wedding


I hadn't envisaged that I would have a relationship with anybody again when I met Richard. I thought Richard was attached, and when I first got to know him, I was making a documentary with FAB (Fighting Aids in Brighton) for Channel 4 on the Aids crisis in Britain. We were interviewing people at Gay Pride in 1993, and Richard was one of the interviewees. He was dressed in Doc Martin boots, a rubber T-shirt and a pair of shorts, with the most beautiful olive skin, and I thought: "I've never seen such an attractive man in my life." And then I chuckled to myself thinking: "A shame you're old and fat and he's not." Then things developed...

We had our ceremony two years ago, at the King Alfred Suite, a Hove council building. We designed our own ceremony and arranged all the music. We debated what vows to have and thought that "love, honour and obey" was very old-fashioned and not really us.

We'd lived together for some time, so we thought we'd have it relevant to our everyday lives. So I promised to love Richard, even when he was vague and wouldn't get up in the morning.

We exchanged matching, white gold rings. Then there was a certificate to be signed. We thought the idea of having selected witnesses to be rather elitist, so we asked everyone in the congregation if they would sign it. All our friends were there - about 50 in all.

We wanted to do something our way - suddenly, I'd gone from being a confirmed bachelor to sharing my life with somebody. We'd been denied the rite of passage: marriage was only for the good guys - the straights, not for us. And queer marriage was very much on the queer rights' agenda at the time, so I think that's why we chose it.

After the wedding, I thought, "I feel different", and to me, the rite of passage had worked. I wasn't the mixture of the frightened 16-year- old and the assertive 20-year-old. By that time I was in my mid-thirties and I needed to move on - and I had: I'd become a married man. Middle age was now staring me in the face, and not unpleasantly so.

When we took the vow "for better, for worse" (although we said it in a different way), I thought, well, if we have fallings-out it doesn't matter now. Rick's not going to get up and leave because I'm being a bit nasty - me neither. We row at times and threaten to leave, but we never do. Or we do for five minutes, and then come back.

Straight society always tells us that our relationships are somehow doomed to fail, that they're not "real" relationships. And to an extent that's true, not because there's anything pathologically or genetically wrong with us, but because there's the homophobia, disapproval of the families - all this baggage of real nastiness following you around.

And it's a complete miracle that any lesbian or gay relationship survives. If they do survive, they should be - must be - celebrated.

Our wedding was about celebration, about standing up affirmatively and saying: "I'm a gay man, I love another gay man, we're together in a committed relationship, you'll celebrate with us".

That was a significant moving-on for us.


We'd been living together for about a year before we decided to have a ceremony. We talked about it quite a bit, and what crystallised it for us was a joint book launch we did with Lynn Sutcliffe (founder of the Lesbian Avengers) and Ian Lucas, the Aids activist who is also one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Something came up about queer marriage; Ian had conducted gay weddings and it was then that we decided to do it.

I got a little jittery beforehand. I think it was suddenly a case of realising what stage we'd got to. It came as quite a jolt to be walking in the King Alfred Centre with Chris, Alison, Arthur and Steve (our supporters) in front of all those people.

We said our vows - I promised to love Chris even when he's bad-tempered and gets paranoid about money. Everyone who knows Chris knows this is part of his personality. We both thought it was quite important that we should pick on something quite central.

My mum loved the wedding. I've never had anything but wholehearted support from her. She's exceptionally accepting, which means a lot to us. There's a large section of the population out there - the little Englanders - who hate us, who would wish us dead. Chris and I, as prominent gay men, doing TV and radio, have had hate-mail and bricks through our window, for instance, after we appeared on Newsnight, about the age of consent debate.

To come out is one of the most dramatic things that anybody ever does. There's a portion of your family that hates you for it, you're set beyond the margins, you will lose some friends. Chris and I had been talking about a change of name and we decided that, rather than one of us changing to the other, we should double-barrel them.

I don't think we're copying heterosexuality. Gay marriage has one important difference: there's no role playing, no patriarchal expectations. It's like a clean slate. Both partners start on an equal footing. There is no expectation of "one does this, the other does that".

One of the things that really irritates me is when people, talking about gay relationships, say, "Who's going to be the man and who the woman?". Both partners bring different things to the relationship.

We don't go out on the [gay] scene. We used to, but neither of us drinks, and in any case we don't have the time. Looking back, it [the scene] does seem superficial. I think that was one of the reasons why having a ceremony was very important to us: to show that our relationship wasn't a fleeting, transient one.