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Last Updated: Monday, 19 December 2005, 16:33 GMT
Out of the ceremony, into history
By Nick Thatcher
BBC News in Belfast

Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles
Grainne and Shannon were first through the door in Belfast
Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles stepped out of a black taxi and into history.

The two women had become "engaged" in New York three years earlier but it was the city of Belfast which was to offer them the first opportunity to "tie the knot".

Holding hands and in the full glare of the waiting media, Ms Close, wearing a black trouser suit, declared: "This is for all the people who went before us ... "

Ms Sickles, wearing a white trouser suit, finished her partner's sentence like any true "married" couple: "... and all the people who would like to come after us."

Then to cheers from friends and family who had gathered on the steps of Belfast City Hall, the couple disappeared inside the doors of the register office for the ceremony itself.

'Momentous day'

"It was really lovely. It was very joyful," reported Rita Wild, one of the guests. "There was lots of cheering, lots of clapping, lots of singing."

The couple recited vows to each other and exchanged rings made locally in Belfast.

Ms Wild had enjoyed every moment: "It's momentous and we'll be remembering this day. It will be taught in children's history lessons in the future."

That is unlikely to happen if the protestors outside get their way.

Northern Ireland was the last place in the United Kingdom to decriminalise homosexuality and not everyone here welcomes being the first place in the United Kingdom to allow same-sex unions.

Religious protests

The Reverend Doctor Ian Brown, from the Free Presbyterian Church, was among the more vocal: "The fact of the matter is that God does not endorse this, shall never endorse this and we are standing for the word of God and for the protection of our children."

The protesters' message was reinforced by an advertising trailer with a giant hoarding which read: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted."

Although one wag tried his best to antagonise the crowd with a placard reading: "The earth is flat."

As the taxi carrying the couple edged its way through the crowd, the jeers from protesters competed with the cheers from supporters.

Hopes and fears

For a few short minutes, the divisions this issue provokes were on stark display.

The hopes of some matched by the fears of others.

Yet as the crowd dispersed, a pink stretch limousine glided into view.

Henry Kane and Christopher Flanagan had arrived for the second ceremony of the morning.

They slipped into the register office almost unnoticed.

Two "bridegrooms" only too happy to avoid the media limelight on their big day.


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