/ 19 December 2005

Lesbian couple brave protesters on ‘wedding’ day

The United Kingdom’s first gay couple to win legal recognition under a new British civil-partnership law drove past anti-homosexual protesters on Monday to make their marriage-style vows inside Belfast City Hall.

Northern Ireland woman Grainne Close and her American partner, Shannon Sickels, walked hand in hand from a black taxi for a 20-minute ceremony that featured an exchange of matching platinum rings and a recording of Dolly Parton’s Touch Your Woman.

”We just want to say that this is a very privileged position we are in this morning, and for us this is about making a choice,” said Close (32), who wore a black tuxedo.

”This is about making a choice to have our civil rights acknowledged and protected, and we could not be here without the hard work of many queer activists and many individuals from the queer community,” said Sickels (27), who wore a white trouser suit.

Some of their approximately 70 guests brushed off point-blank insults from Christian evangelists as they walked through the city hall’s wrought-iron gates.

”You need to turn yourself away from your sinful lifestyle. You’re an abomination before God,” a Scottish preacher, the Reverend James Dawson, told one lesbian couple as they walked past.

”You would be so lucky to have this lady, love. I’ll see you at the gates of heaven,” retorted Brenda Murphy, walking beside her partner, Nuala Quiery.

Three homosexual couples — one male, two female — were scheduled to sign the civil-partnership register on Monday in Belfast City Hall.

The new law, which already exists in several other European countries, gives gay couples the same property and inheritance rights as married heterosexual couples.

The law came into effect in Northern Ireland one day before Scotland and two days before England and Wales, where more than 600 gay couples plan to gain legal recognition of their relationships on Wednesday.

Speaking before their arrival at city hall, Sickels — a New York City native and a playwright — said she met Close in New York four years ago.

She said they both felt much more comfortable holding hands or kissing in public in New York rather than in conservative Northern Ireland, but registered their partnership here to make it easier for Close eventually to immigrate legally to the United States.

Both have been living in Belfast for the past year. — Sapa-AP