Peter McGraith and David Cabreza, the first same-sex couple to marry under UK law


An actor, a guest house owner, a brand stylist and a union worker will be among the first people in the UK to wed once the new equal marriage law comes into force from this Saturday morning.

Whether you are in Brighton, London or Northampton, at one minute past midnight, same-sex couples will be tying the knot and making history. Anecdotally, it seems that men are more keen on the (somewhat flashier) midnight ceremony than women, but many of them want to use their ceremony to highlight the global LGBT-rights agenda.

Peter McGraith, a 49-year-old writer and designer, will marry 42-year-old David Cabreza, his partner of 17 years, just after midnight on Saturday morning, at Islington Town Hall, north London. They booked as soon as Maria Miller, the Minister for Women and Equalities, made the announcement – and have even arranged their wedding party before the ceremony to get in extra early.

"[The wedding] is all going to hang around an idea: a historic moment in time. While this is a deeply personal thing … we're doing it publicly, partly to display to the whole world that our country recognises and respects our relationship. Marriage is not the apotheosis of gay rights [but] it's a steady step in the right direction," Mr McGraith said.

"It has to be more than just waves and smiles. I don't like the idea that David Cameron might see it as a conservative thing, or the cleaning up of the image of gay relationships; sanitising them and making them neat and nice, instead of seeing what is special about us and different. We have metropolitan 21st-century lives, while having the protection of law."

Emma Powell and Sarah Keith

Like couples who have gone before them, some will go traditional, while others will take part in modern weddings – rinsing their hands of what they see as outdated ceremony. Emma Powell, 29, head of membership at the National Union of Students, has been with her partner, Sarah Keith, a 30-year-old senior account manager for the Financial Times, for nine and a half years. They both live in London but are planning a modern wedding at the Claremont Hotel in Brighton on Saturday afternoon. The duo are moving to New York soon after.

"We're thinking bright-coloured cocktail dresses, not bridal gowns. We like the idea of marriage, but don't want to mirror any old patriarchal institutions of marriage, like the dad giving the woman away. We are keen to do a modern version; we'll walk down the aisle together. It's not going to be traditional," Ms Powell said.

"Most straight people think about the day they're going to get married, but, as a young gay person, I never thought it was going to happen. I was heavily involved with the equal marriage campaign [and] the fact we can do it on the first day is really exciting. We could get married abroad, but we really did want to do it in our own country. It means more to have our friends and family here."

Then there are the couples who want their ceremony to highlight the diversity of modern Britain. John Coffey, a 52-year-old TV producer, is set to marry Bernardo Marti, a 48-year-old brand stylist, just after midnight on Saturday morning at Mayfair Library in London. The couple, who have been together for six years, will take part in a double ceremony with friends of theirs: a straight couple from Spain. They are the subject of a BBC London documentary. "The important thing is this is historically significant. For us, this is not a spectacle. We don't want to get involved in a race. We're getting married with two friends; they'll be our witnesses and we'll be theirs," Coffey said.

"We thought it would be a great symbol of equality; we're getting married by a gay Irish registrar and a Jamaican registrar. It's a real mix and it's what makes Britain great. We can safely say, when we and others get married, it will be the first time we've ever had complete equality in the history of this country."

Andrew Wale, a 49-year-old actor will marry his partner of seven years, 48-year-old guest house owner Neil Allard, in a midnight ceremony on Saturday morning. They won a competition to be the first same-sex couple to wed at Brighton's Royal Pavilion – made all the more special because they first met on the bench opposite.

"It's what we both wanted to wait for," said Mr Wale. "It's a privilege to be part of something historical."

Scott Maloney and Matthew Toresen,

'We got involved for the young lesbians and gay men who come after us'

Scott Maloney, a 45-year-old charity worker, and Matthew Toresen, a 51-year-old community development worker, are getting married at the Northampton Guildhall on Saturday.

The duo, who have been together 22 years, filed a legal case in the European Court of Human Rights two years ago – arguing that UK law discriminated against gay people.

Mr Maloney said: "We always believed partial equality isn't full equality. We got involved for the people who come after us. The young lesbians and gay men who will grow up and know they're not excluded from the same rites of passage that all their peers are able to enjoy. Matthew and I met through our background in HIV and sexual health work; we remember when any interest in the activity of gay men was about an attempt to criminalise them. In our lifetime, we've seen a complete turnaround.