The Palace of Westminster will make a break with tradition this month when it hosts a civil partnership ceremony for the first time.
The Europe minister Chris Bryant will form a civil partnership with Jared Cranney, a company secretary, on 27 March. Mr Bryant said: "It is something I really never thought would happen. It was illegal to be gay when I was born. We're really excited about it. I've never had to worry about flowers or cakes before."
The date was confirmed after John Bercow, the Speaker, secured a licence to hold the services within the parliamentary estate. The licence will also allow members of the public to marry within the grounds.
Plans to hold Mr Bryant's service in the splendour of Speaker's House, Mr Bercow's official residence, have been scrapped as the property did not meet the technical requirements for a licensed venue. The sheer numbers attending were also a problem. The ceremony will be in the Members' Dining Room overlooking the Thames. The large, wood-panelled venue, with its green and gold brocade wallpaper, chandeliers and portraits of past statesmen, has a capacity of about 150.
But Mr Bercow will host a drinks reception for guests in the finery of Speaker's House after the ceremony. The reception will be in the state dining room, designed by the master of Gothic Revival architecture AWN Pugin.
"We're really grateful to John Bercow, who has been helpful and supportive throughout in making this happen," Mr Bryant said. "I hope other people will take advantage of the opportunity to marry here – it is a fantastic setting. It's nice to know that there is now no dividing line between straight or gay."
There will be a ballot for members of the public wanting to marry within Parliament. It could host some 20 unions each year. "It is crazy to have such a national monument, practically deserted on a Saturday, not used for this," said a spokesman for the Speaker. "It is the people's property, not a private club." The Jubilee Room, which overlooks Cromwell Green and can cater for 80 people, has also been cleared as a suitable venue for weddings by Westminster City Council.
Mr Bryant, a former Church of England chaplain, met Mr Cranney while campaigning in Soho with the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in April last year.
Heterosexual MPs, peers and their families had already been allowed to wed in the 14th-century chapel within the parliamentary grounds. However, as a religious setting, it still cannot be used for civil partnerships.Reuse content