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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 06:42 GMT
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Mock ceremonies, legal advice and invitations from the bride and bride will greet visitors to the UK's first gay wedding fair.

Plans to hold the event, in Brighton in November, may represent the latest step towards acceptance of gay marriages.

It follows controversy in California, where more than 3,400 same-sex couples have wed since San Francisco's mayor began issuing licences last month.

Pink Weddings, the Surrey firm behind the UK fair, believes it is time gay ceremonies came out of the closet.

It needs to stop being looked at as if it's a disgrace
Gino Meriano, Pink Weddings

Company founder Gino Meriano said: "If you actually get to see one, you realise it's really dignified, completely heartfelt - and that's the image that needs to be put out there.

"It needs to stop being looked at as if it's a disgrace."

If the fair in Brighton proves successful, it will go on a tour of the UK taking in Manchester, London, Liverpool, Swansea and a venue in Scotland.

Visitors will be able to watch half a dozen mock blessings, complete with a celebrant.

"People can come in, sit down, almost be part of the guests, and will see two couples having a mock ceremony," Mr Meriano said.

Same sex wedding
The fair will give gay couples products tailored to their needs

"The idea is, they can see what it's like, the kind of wording. We will have a humorous and a serious one so couples can get an idea what they want for the future."

Speakers at the fair will give advice on the implications of the Civil Partnership Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech last November.

The legislation will give legal recognition to gay and lesbian couples for the first time, including pension and property entitlements, if they register their commitment in a civil ceremony.

It's one of the few things in life where everyone's smiling
Ken Bodfish, mayor for Brighton and Hove

Brighton and Hove's Labour mayor, Ken Bodfish, said in his view there was "no controversy" over gay weddings.

"We were one of the first councils to have the partnership register," he said.

"People want to make the declaration, want to have fun, and we are very happy that they should do so - in the same way as heterosexual couples.

"It's one of the few things in life where everyone's smiling."

Not legally binding

Brighton's register office plans to send a celebrant to the fair to talk to gay and lesbian couples considering a ceremony.

Debra Reynolds, superintendent registrar for Brighton and Hove, said: "I think it's a great idea and we are really positive about it."

Her office carried out 24 commitment ceremonies - which are not legally binding - for gay couples between April last year and January, compared with 1,010 marriages registered over the same period.

If they are going to be having weddings to mimic as closely as possible what would happen at an actual wedding, it's simply a wedding look-alike
Dr Don Horrocks, Evangelical Alliance

Mr Meriano said he had been prompted to organise the fair by the absence of gay-friendly advice and products at conventional wedding forums.

"We do a whole range of invitations for the gay and lesbian community," he said.

"If you genuinely cannot get these from suppliers we will supply our own - it's driven by the fact that people are asking for these things."

But Dr Don Horrocks, head of public affairs for the Evangelical Alliance, dismissed the idea of a gay wedding fair as a "misnomer" and a "shrewd marketing opportunity".

'Love and commitment'

He said: "If they are going to be having weddings to mimic as closely as possible what would happen at an actual wedding, it's simply a wedding look-alike.

"You cannot call it a wedding because it is a unique word that is only applied to marriage.

"There's no such thing as gay marriage in this country."

Brett Lock, spokesman for gay rights group OutRage, said the focus on gay weddings in the US could only help the fight for equal marriage rights in the UK.

"If nothing else it will show the world that the world doesn't end just because two people of the same sex proclaim their love and commitment to each other," he said.

"In California and New York, they are taking the bull by the horns and confronting the issue - and putting it not just on the national agenda but also the global agenda."

California gay weddings can go on
28 Feb 04  |  Americas
Bush speaks against gay weddings
19 Feb 04  |  Americas
Head to head: Gay equality
06 Dec 02  |  Politics

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