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Rainbow flag flies over Exmouth as Mayor marries on 'historic day' for gay couples

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: March 30, 2014

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Exmouth Town Hall flew the rainbow flag as mayor John Humphreys and his long-term partner David Marston became one of the first gay couples in the Westcountry to get married.

Same-sex couples across the country celebrated on Saturday as the new marriage law came into effect.

And rainbow flags – adopted as a symbol of the gay community in 1970s San Francisco – were hung all over the country to celebrate the occasion, with flags flying above both the Cabinet Office and Scotland Office.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” Mr Humphreys said. “We had a joyful day and it was lovely to be surrounded by friends, family and children who we have seen grow up in the 22 years we have been together.”

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Mr Humphreys, who is also a Conservative councillor on East Devon District Council, said Saturday had been a “historic day” which they were prepared to wait for rather than opt for a civil partnership.

He said: “We have been together for 22 years and we thought we would wait until marriage came in because one day it would, whether it was this year, in five years, or in 10 years.”

Guests at the ceremony included East Devon Conservative MP Hugo Swire. Afterwards the couple celebrated with a meal at the Masonic Hall followed by a party for more than 150 wellwishers.

Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the introduction of gay marriages in England and Wales as “historic”.

The Prime Minister said: “Congratulations to the gay couples who have already been married – and my best wishes to those about to be on this historic day.”

One of the first gay couples to be married as soon as the law allowed were actor Andrew Wale and guesthouse owner Neil Allard who wed at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton just after midnight.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 people and a host of famous faces gathered to see comedian Sandi Toksvig and her partner Debbie renew their wedding vows at a public ceremony on London’s South Bank.

The couple, who first entered into a civil partnership seven years ago, were joined by members of the public and friends as they exchanged vows on stage with their four children at the Royal Festival Hall.

The Radio 4 News Quiz presenter described the day as a “an astonishing moment in history”.

In a speech, an emotional Toksvig said: “There was many a time I thought this day would never come.”

Speaking of her partner, she said: “We’re still crazy about each other. I can’t believe my luck – look how gorgeous she is. I want a piece of paper to say she won’t ever leave me.”

A host of famous faces attended, including comedian Phill Jupitus, fashion guru Mary Portas, activist Peter Tatchell and actor Christopher Biggins.

Toksvig’s friend and actress Sheila Hancock read Maya Angelou’s poem, Touched By An Angel, along with Debbie’s daughter – who also did a reading.

Civil partnerships were introduced in Britain in 2004. The Government has said they can be converted to marriages by the end of the year, according to Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Writing in Pink News, Ms Miller said: “I’m very much aware that there are couples who are already in a civil partnership and who may be disappointed that they will have to wait a little longer to be able to convert to a marriage.

“I’d like to reassure them that we are working hard to ensure that this process is in place by the end of year. It’s taking longer because we need to introduce completely new procedures and processes.”

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force in July last year but it was not until March 13 this year when couples were able to register their intention to marry under the Act for the first time.

Ruth Hunt, acting chief executive for charity Stonewall, which campaigns for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, said: “The first same sex marriages in England and Wales are a truly historic moment.

“These weddings will send a powerful signal to every young person growing up to be lesbian, gay or bisexual – you can be who you are and love who you love, regardless of your sexual orientation.

“It’s thanks to the dedication of activists and politicians from across the political spectrum that we can at long last say that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are equal under the law.”

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