Thousands expected at Elton John wedding venue

Rock star Elton John is tying the knot with long-time partner David Furnish Wednesday, in a civil-union ceremony seen as a watershed in the struggle for gay rights — and as the party of the season by celebrity-spotters.

Thousands of fans are expected to mob the cobbled streets around Windsor’s town hall, the Guildhall, where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles wed in April.

Police erected security barriers outside the sturdy building of brick and Portland stone partly designed by Christopher Wren, but expected no trouble.

”It’s not a major police operation — it’s not a royal wedding,” Windsor police spokesperson Sue Mahoney said. ”The general atmosphere seems to be jolly, very good-humoured.”

Windsor is a centuries-old seat of British royalty west of London.

John and Furnish are the most prominent of hundreds of same-sex couples planning to form civil partnerships in England and Wales on Wednesday, the first day that such ceremonies become possible.

Ceremonies were held earlier this week in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Gay rights activists see the unions as joyous — and important in advancing efforts to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. Peter Tatchell, spokesperson for the gay and lesbian human rights group OutRage!, said the wedding ”would raise the profile of gay love and commitment”.

”Their same-sex civil-partnership ceremony will be reported all over the world, including in countries where news about gay issues is normally never reported,” he said. ”This will give hope to millions of isolated, vulnerable, lesbian and gay people, especially those living in repressive and homophobic countries.”

Furnish, a Canadian-born filmmaker, and John have been together for 12 years.

The couple plans a low-key private ceremony, with only John’s mother and stepfather and Furnish’s parents expected to attend. The reception, by contrast, is expected to be a star-studded extravaganza costing an estimated £1-million.

Two giant white tents have been erected on the grounds of the pop star’s Windsor mansion for the bash, which British tabloids claim will be heated adequately to warm the hundreds of guests in scanty evening gowns.

Guests at the couple’s bachelor night on Monday — a prelude to the bigger reception on Wednesday — included heavy metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his wife, Sharon; model and actress Liz Hurley; and musicians Bryan Adams, Gary Barlow and Kid Rock.

The new law — passed last year despite some opposition from Parliament’s unelected House of Lords — allows civil ceremonies that will give same-sex couples the same social security, tax, pension and inheritance rights as married couples.

John and Furnish acknowledged that their ceremony might have broader ramifications.

”As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always considered myself committed to Elton and he’s the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with. So, in that sense I don’t feel like the dynamic of our relationship is going to change,” Furnish told Attitude magazine.

”But from a social standpoint, I think it’s hugely significant. It is a major, major change. It is one of the defining issues of our times.” — Sapa-AP

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