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Gay couple ready to make legal history

The cake will be chocolate, the readings will be from Winnie the Pooh and the setting will be a very English country garden. This is not the plan of a wedding soon to take place in Sussex or Surrey but rather in the United States. More specifically, we are in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

And that can mean only one thing - we are talking gay wedding. Fifty guests are invited to the marriage of Stephen Mascilo, 55, and Trevor Pinker, 54, on Thursday 27 May at one o'clock in the garden of the Oxford House, a gay inn with seven rooms that the happy couple have owned and run since 1998.

That all this is happening is as much of a shock to Steve and Trevor as to anyone else. Here they are, two British-born men who came to America 10 years ago and just recently received their US citizenships, preparing to marry. And they mean really marry. This will not be a commitment ceremony with no legal consequence. When they leave for their one-night honeymoon in Boston they will be wed in the eyes of the law - or state law, at any rate.

They will also have become part of a highly controversial moment in American history. It dawns tomorrow morning, when, thanks to a legal ruling delivered by the Massachusetts Supreme Court last November, town clerks here and all across the state will be allowed to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. It is the first state to take the step.

Provincetown, a former fishing village on the tip of Cape Cod that for decades has been a favourite haven for gays and lesbians, will go haywire when the town hall opens at 8am. As many as 110 couples are expected to queue up for the forms that they must fill in to receive their marriage licences.

These final days have not been without drama. Last-minute manoeuvres by conservative opponents of gay marriage ended with an appeal late on Friday to the US Supreme Court to intervene to stop Massachusetts from going through with it. By all appearances, however, their tactics have failed. The Republican Governor of the state, Mitt Romney, has complicated matters further by decreeing that only gays living in Massachusetts should be allowed to marry. But Provincetown is planning to defy him. Officials here will issue licences to gays from any state.

"He is an evil man," blurts Trevor, by all appearances an entirely mild-mannered man who, before uprooting with Steve in 1994, was a GP in Purley. (His uncle, George Pinker, used to be gynaecologist to the Queen.) It was just after the Supreme Court pronounced last autumn that he casually asked Steve whether he would like to get married. "He said, 'Don't be silly'."

But then in March, the two of them had a scare. They were in the Caribbean, and Trevor, caught by a riptide, almost drowned. At the hospital, the staff did not think twice about letting Steve stay by Trevor's side. It would not have been that way in America. That jogged Steve into proposing over dinner when Trevor had recovered.

Now the caterers have been chosen, the couple have re-written their wills and bought two platinum rings. Each has been working on the words of the tributes they will read to one another before making their vows before a minister from the nearby Unitarian Universalist Church.

Though not the sort of gays who fit the stereotype of homosexual flamboyance, they do have one stunt up their sleeves. The week after their wedding, Provincetown will have a "bird-jump" competition, when scores of plucky competitors will leap off the end of the pier in a doomed attempt to fly. Steve and Trevor will do it; gay newly-weds in black tie with wings and red life-belts.

And they have chosen the music to accompany their watery lovers' leap - Frank Sinatra singing "Love and Marriage".