| LONDON, March 29
LONDON, March 29 Prime Minister David Cameron
hailed Britain's first gay marriages on Saturday, saying
marriage was not something that should be denied to anyone
because of their sexuality.
Campaigners have spent years battling to end a distinction
that many gay couples say made them feel like second class
citizens and Saturday was the first day that gay couples could
tie the knot in England and Wales.
"For the first time, the couples getting married won't just
include men and women - but men and men, and women and women,"
Cameron said in a statement. "When people's love is divided by
law, it is the law that needs to change."
The British government, with the backing of Cameron,
legalised same-sex marriage last July but it was not until this
month that couples could register their intention to marry and
March 29 was the first possible date for ceremonies.
Gay couples have been allowed since 2005 to enter into
"civil partnerships", conferring the same legal rights as
marriage, but campaigners say the distinction gives the
impression that society considers gay relationships inferior.
"Put simply, in Britain it will no longer matter whether you
are straight or gay - the state will recognise your relationship
as equal," said Cameron as couples in London and Brighton on
England's south coast held midnight ceremonies in a race to be
the first to marry.
"It feels like a silver wedding," said Peter McGraith, who
was marrying his partner of 17 years, David Cabreza, at a
ceremony in London at one minute past midnight.
McGraith said he hoped this would send to a powerful signal
to other gay couples around the world.
"It puts pressure on those places where our rights are
completely denied," said McGraith who has two adopted children
While the number of countries legalising gay marriage has
grown significantly since the Netherlands made the first move in
2000, only 17 currently allow gay couples to marry.
The law's passage in Britain last summer caused deep splits
in Cameron's ruling Conservative Party, where many are opposed
to same-sex marriage because it contradicts their Christian
Despite shifting public attitudes in Britain, research for
the BBC showed on Friday that about one in five British adults
would turn down an invitation to a gay wedding.
The poll, conducted for BBC Radio 5, found that men were
nearly twice as likely to stay away as women with 29 percent
saying they would not attend.
Campaigners hailed the change in the law as a "historic
moment" that was marked by flying rainbow-coloured flags, a
symbol of the gay movement, over London's government quarter.
"These weddings will send a powerful signal to every young
person growing up to be lesbian, gay or bisexual - you can be
who you are and love who you love, regardless of your sexual
orientation," said Ruth Hunt, acting chief executive for
leading gay rights charity Stonewall.
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)