Well, for those musical theatre aficionados amongst you I suspect you think I am going to be writing about “Sweet Charity”. In fact this is one of those very rare columns when I don’t mention musical theatre at all. So what then is the subject you may ask? It’s what I got up to last weekend.
I have known, my friend, Jackie for over twenty years. Back in our teens we would do that thing which teenagers did back in the days before ipods. We would sit in Jackie’s bedroom and play each other records, discussing the deep meanings that they held. Jackie introduced me to Suzanne Vega and Alison Moyet, whilst I played her Elaine Paige and Barbra Streisand. Sometimes we would pop down to Whitwick chippy, often pretending to be “Dempsey and Makepeace” and singing the theme tune. Jackie decided that I was Harriet Makepeace and she was Dempsey. Add to this the time when we got marooned at Coalville clock tower in the early hours of the morning, with Jackie dressed as an assassin and me as a (female) Greenham Common peace protestor, and it was a foregone conclusion that our lives wouldn’t take the conventional route!
Over the years Jackie and I have been around during each others bad times, and also the good times, so it was particularly nice to share last Saturday with her. The happiest of occasions.
This happy occasion was of course her civil partnership ceremony where she committed to her partner Sarah. I must admit when Jackie first told me about Sarah, for one reason or another I thought it was a bad idea, and told her so! However, the first time we met, over a pizza, I knew I was wrong. Sarah is intelligent, forthright and has a cracking sense of humour, so of course we got on excellently. Not only did I warm to Sarah pretty much immediately, but it was clear that she was having a really positive effect on Jackie. Jackie had always been a little shy and Sarah was managing to draw her out of herself. In fact since being with her, Jackie has really blossomed. As a couple they balance each other perfectly with the Jackie’s kindness and caring and the Sarah’s gregariousness and pragmatism they make a winning combination, and are very lucky to have found each other. In fact, as Barbra Streisand herself might say, these two people are the luckiest people in the world. I did try to think of a Suzanne Vega lyric (honest!) but they all seem a bit – well, vague.
Civil partnership’s between same sex couples are still very much a new thing. Obviously the legal implications are ground breaking and in terms of “rights” they go a long way towards achieving equality in many different areas. However I feel that the real achievement is that a civil partnership can give couples the opportunity to make a commitment in front of their family and friends in much the same way as a conventional wedding. The joy of a civil partnership ceremony (if you choose to actually have a ceremony of course!) is that they aren’t tied up in the tradition and paraphernalia of a heterosexual wedding. Beyond the signing (and witnessing) of the contract you more or less have free rein to make what you will of the day. I am sure that some couples go for a straight forward traditional wedding, but of course you can just take what elements you like. The symbolism of rings is something that I suspect many will choose to retain for instance. For Jackie and Sarah, although they eschewed a traditional reception in favour of a relaxed afternoon in the garden for all their friends and family, they kept the wedding cake and champagne! Phew, you can’t miss out on cake and champagne can you? Really! In this respect we are in the position that we can start our own traditions, and maybe in time there will become an “accepted” way to conduct things. My hope is that, rather than mimicking a heterosexual wedding, the way forward is to make civil ceremonies very individual events. It’s the second I have attended and both have been very different. For the first it was Joe Allen’s and then on to the London Eye by night, and for this second one it was a relaxed buffet and booze in the scorching August sun. The first was simple and brief, the second came with music and readings. There are no rules, and I hope that is how it remains. A celebration of a couples love, commitment and individuality. Confetti optional!
It was certainly a privilege, as a witness, to be part of their big day – even if I did get a bit confused about the rings! I wish Jackie and Sarah, and indeed all those others pioneers who have taken advantage of this legislation, much love and luck! Whatever you choose to call it – a wedding, a civil ceremony, a partnership, it’s certainly something that feels right