With its array of obscure procedures, archaic ceremonies and strictly enforced rules, Parliament has often struggled with a reputation as an institution stuck in a time warp. But the hallowed halls of Westminster will take a major step into the 21st century next spring when the Palace defies convention to host its first ever civil partnership ceremony, The Independent can reveal.
Chris Bryant, the Europe minister, will become the first gay MP to have a civil partnership within the parliamentary estate in what will be seen as a symbolic victory for gay rights. Despite his role in the historic event, the former Church of England chaplain said he was "just happy to be getting married" after becoming engaged to his partner, Jared Cranney. "Jared and I are engaged and we hope to have a civil partnership – or a marriage is what it feels like – in March of next year," he said. "We'd like to do it in Parliament if possible."
Mr Bryant met Jared, a company secretary, while out on the campaign trial in Soho with the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in April last year. The pair will now be working with the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, to finalise the details of the ceremony.
All MPs, peers and their families have long been able to get married in the 14th-century chapel within the parliamentary grounds. However, like all religious venues across Britain, it cannot be used for civil partnerships, meaning that another venue has had to be found for Mr Bryant's ceremony to take place.
As part of his bid to modernise the workings of Parliament, the Speaker has been battling behind the scenes to allow the ceremony to take place within the finery of Speaker's House, his official riverside residence in the Palace of Westminster.
The ceremony is likely to take place in the state dining room, still home to many formal events held by the Speaker. Guests will be treated to the opulence of its Gothic Revival-style chandeliers and furnishings designed by A W N Pugin, considered one of the style's masters. Mr Bercow is in the process of securing a licence for the property to become the regular location for gay parliamentarians to register their union.
Mr Bryant has been at the forefront of the Government's equalities campaigning, having worked closely with the Equalities minister, Harriet Harman, first as her private secretary and then as deputy leader of the House. As a former chaplain, he has also called for the church to go much further in recognising civil partnerships in the past, asking Church of England clergy to be "much more open" and treat the ceremony like a heterosexual wedding. "All my friends who have entered into a civil partnership refer to it as their 'marriage' or their 'wedding' so the most important issue is that nobody should be discriminated against because of their sexuality," he said earlier this year.
Gordon Brown announced that he wanted Parliament to be used for civil partnership ceremonies last month, telling a commission set up to look into diversity within Parliament that it was unfair that only heterosexual ceremonies could take place there. Downing Street sources said the change would send a "powerful message that the mother of Parliaments is truly representative".
House mates: MPs in civil partnerships
*Ben Bradshaw, currently Culture Secretary, broke down another barrier when he became the first MP to enter into a civil partnership, with BBC journalist Neal Dalgleish, in 2006.
*Alan Duncan was the first sitting Tory MP to declare that he was gay. In July 2008, he became the first member of either the Cabinet or the shadow Cabinet to enter into a civil partnership.
*Nick Herbert, shadow Environment Secretary, missed out on being able to hold a ceremony in Westminster. He entered into a civil partnership with his partner, Jason Eades, in January.
*Lib-Dem Stephen Williams, the first MP to come out as gay, could be the next to hold a civil partnership ceremony in Westminster. He has publicly supported a campaign for partnerships to be treated as marriages.