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Last Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005, 04:37 GMT
Naming the gay day
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

If you thought the Modern Life show in north London was about shiny new fridges, perhaps the Pink Singers belting out Abba's greatest hits would put you straight - although, then again, straight is probably the wrong word.

On Monday, a law comes into force to allow gay and lesbian couples the right to form civil partnerships. You'll never hear government use the phrase, but to all intents and purposes Britain is about to see gay weddings.

The first ceremonies take place on 21 December (there has to be an official period of declaration before going ahead). With that in mind, some of those thinking of tying the knot headed for the Modern Life show, an exhibition of everything you might want - and a great deal you never knew you needed - for the "happy day".

Photographers promote pictures of loving grooms or two brides laughing along the aisle. Cake companies are busy exhibiting single sex couples to top off their creations. And then, of course, there are the His and His towels courtesy of the gift list companies. Clearly some thought it was fun, others found it a bit tacky and stereotyping.

The government thinks up to 22,000 gay couples will take civil partnership in the first five years. Over-30s are expected to be particularly keen because it accords key rights to them as couples.

Crystal clear

Before the Civil Partnership Act 2004, gay couples were vulnerable to all the legal insecurities of straight couples who live together out of wedlock. This threat lifts with civil partnership.

Couples prepare for the big day.

"Next of kin" rules will now be crystal clear: a doctor will no longer be able to deny someone their rights because they don't approve of their lifestyle.

But while the act is about the grander legal issues, as anyone who has got spliced already knows, the wedding industry is awash with profit and operators are rapidly jumping on board to chase the pink pound.

Newbury hotelier Aled Humphreys is one of the few who has taken the plunge to appear at the show. His stall for the Regency Park Hotel boasts a double bed and attractive models

"I think it might turn out to be a huge market," he says. "And the reason why we are here is to say that we are a forward thinking venue, somewhere that is trying to be progressive. We're not trying to suggest to people they should have this sort or that sort of ceremony.

Same sex couples recognised as legal partners
Similar rights to married couples
Inheritance and pensions benefits etc
Court-based dissolution similar to divorce
22,000 expected to sign up in first five years

"It's going to be down to the individual. My feeling is that initially a lot of people will want to get it done without a lot of fuss because they have been waiting for such a long time."

That's a view shared by Ben Spence of Pink Products, one of a number of wholly new companies set up to cater for gay celebrations.

Ben has brought along cake-topping figurines of the single sex variety, wedding invitations and all manner of raunchy silliness seen at your average drink-fuelled hen party.

His business has grown by roughly 40% in the past six months, he said.

"But there is also, certainly, some hesitation - some people are clearly waiting to see how it pans out," says Ben.

"We've had contact with some venues which are clearly reluctant at the moment because they don't know what to make of it - I think they're worried they're going to get 50 guys shagging in the corner.

"But when people have waited so long for these rights to come along - something they've fought so hard to get - I reckon most ceremonies are going to be very dignified and low-key. People just want to get on with it."

Battle of the councils

And it's local councils that are at the heart of seeing things get done. The past few months has seen a race among a number of town halls to present themselves as the most gay-friendly location.

Maybe in 10 years' time we won't need to have gay wedding planners or gay companies at all - there will be just wedding planners - that would be a measure of equality
Richard Jones, Modern Commitments

At the show, Brighton is battling it out with Hertfordshire for potential custom.

While the former arguably had a points victory in terms of public image - it has a well established gay scene - Herts has hit the ground running with a motto ("Embracing our gay and lesbian community") and a flashy, comprehensive brochure of venues and services.

One couple not doing anything by halves, however, are west Londoners Don Rainbow and Malcolm Higgs, getting hitched in Richmond.

Their partnership on 21 December will be a serious bash, complete with specially commissioned suits and seven-diamond rings, marking the years they have been waiting for the chance to make a decent man of one another.

After an 8am ceremony, they will climb on board the London Eye with their guests and on Big Ben's chimes of midday, they will champagne toast Parliament across the River Thames, thanking the law makers for doing the right thing.

That said, there are still some things they want fixing.

"I would prefer to use the word wedding," said Don. "It's a lot better than civil partnerships which is a bit, well, legal. We're going through the same process as straight couples, we've got ring bearers and readings - and that should be recognised as such."
Malcolm and Don: Planning a big day

Lancelot Fougere and Richard Jones organised the show through their gay wedding planning firm Modern Commitments.

They say the wider wedding industry is now waking up to the legal change - apparent reluctance has in fact given way to a flood of interest, particularly from Hoteliers for whom weddings are a critical part of their income.

"When the law was passed there was barely anyone taking notice in the wedding industry," says Richard. "But as soon as we have the pictures of gay couples walking down the steps of town halls, that will change.

"Maybe in 10 years' time we won't need to have gay wedding planners or gay companies at all - there will be just wedding planners. Now that would be a measure of equality."

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