AS THE clocks strike midnight tonight same sex marriage will become legal and many gay Gloucestershire couples are already looking forward to tying the knot.
The county’s first homosexual wedding will be taking place in Cheltenham on Sunday and some 34 happy couples have already booked in their ceremonies.
Richard Stevens, vice-chairman of Gloucestershire Pride, welcomed what he described as the “last piece of equality legislation” coming into force for the lesbian, bisexual and gay community.
He said: “I think it is something that my partner and me will consider because marriage can be more symbolic than a civil partnership.
“When you go to a civil partnership you don’t hear the words husband and wife, it is about becoming partners and that has always struck me as an obvious differentiation.
“This puts people not just on the same legal footing, but social footing. It is an important step and piece of equality legislation.
“Civil partnerships have been very good in what they did and gave some recognition.
“But this is significant. It means everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, will for the first time not treated differently.”
The changes to the law will mean that religious readings, music or symbols, which were currently banned during civil partnership ceremonies, will now be allowed.
When civil partnerships began in 2005, initially there was a surge of couples taking the step, with more than 18,000 ceremonies in the first 12 months, and less than half that number in subsequent years.
Commentators believe the same could happen now for gay couples wanting to get married.
Some 15 countries have already legalised same-sex marriage.
“Although we have not led the way on this, Britain is one of the best places to be gay in the world,” Mr Stevens added.
The new law will be celebrated at this year’s Gloucestershire Pride, based in Gloucester Park on June 14 where a same sex wedding village will be held.
Thomas Duggins, senior associate at law firm Charles Russell LLP, based at Lypiatt Road in Cheltenham said: “While the term “ground-breaking” is bandied around relatively liberally, it is perhaps warranted on this occasion.
“The introduction of gay marriage represents a substantial legal and social break from the past.
“While the Civil Partnership Act 2004 granted same sex couples virtually all of the legal protection of marriage, for many the creation of an alternative system of registering a union was active discrimination.
“The strength of feeling expressed, by those both for and against same sex marriage, somewhat contradicts recent surveys which suggest the waning importance of marriage as an institution.
“There are reports of many couples rushing to registry offices at one minute past midnight on 29 March 2014 in an effort to be the first in the country to enter a same sex marriage.”