December date for Britain's first gay wedding

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The Independent Online

At one minute past midnight on 21 December, Debbie Gaston and Elaine Cook will enter British history books. Their achievement? Becoming the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Britain.

At one minute past midnight on 21 December, Debbie Gaston and Elaine Cook will enter British history books. Their achievement? Becoming the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Britain.

The pair, who have been together for 16 years, will go through an official register office ceremony in Brighton at the earliest possible moment after the long-awaited Civil Partnership Bill becomes law. At a stroke, they will be given the same tax, pension and inheritance benefits as married couples, and more rights than cohabiting heterosexuals.

Ms Gaston, 46, is a vicar with the Metropolitan Community Church [MCC], a Christian ministry that welcomes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered worshippers. Ms Cook, 53, is a teacher and has a 24-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter from a previous heterosexual marriage.

The couple met in 1987 at their local Baptist church but did not start a relationship for a couple of years, partly because of the guilt they felt from their religion.

"We were very closeted to begin with and didn't tell anyone, but then we joined the MCC and began to feel more confident about ourselves," says Ms Gaston. "Our true friends and our family have been fantastic. Some people we thought were our friends could not cope with our sexuality and they have drifted away, and I feel sad that our church could not accept it. But I think the Bill will make the main denominations start to think about this now."

The Civil Partnership Bill becomes law on 5 December, when same-sex couples will be able to register their intention to marry. There is then a 15-day cooling-off period before the first official ceremonies can take place on 21 December.

Brighton and Hove City Council has been eager to reinforce the area's reputation as the gay capital of Britain by staging the first weddings within seconds of the go-ahead.

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