As Spider-Man might have once said: "With gay marriage comes great responsibility." Or legalities. Having recently been kindly given a well-meaning LGBT marriage guide book (which goes to great and unnecessary lengths to detail just how to make that home-made ring-bearers cushion out of that chiffon scarf we all have lying around) my man Elliot and I realized that marriage admin is a lot more grown-up and binding than we imagined. Because we have to give legal notice of our intent to get wed, the law requires us to visit our nearest county registry office at least 28 days before tying the knot. So with an appointment swiftly booked, we coyly entered the rubber-stamping HQ like huddled Ellis Island immigrants praying our threadbare papers are all in order. It was the same county registry office where my parents and Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland all got wed — but not at the same time. And I don’t suppose Ms. Ekland and Sellers were guilty of what my parents did when slyly using another couple’s parked wedding car for their photos as it was better than theirs.
Nearly a year on since Britain got equal marriage, the registry office’s notice boards were painfully lacking in any equal marriage guidance. There was one funereal looking pamphlet trying its best to be inclusive, but failing as all it discussed with eye-rolling aplomb was civil partnerships (the UK’s forerunner to the all-out equal marriage we have now). To be fair, neither the notice boards, their information, two paintings of The Queen, nor the plastic lobby flowers had probably been updated since 1988. As groom and groom we are encountering a lot of “we haven’t updated ourselves on that yet.” Which is fine. At least folk accept they need to. But that doesn’t help two grooms navigating the great unknown. So, despite being sandwiched between a toothless young man wanting a copy of one birth certificate because prison lost his last one and two fresh parents seeking another for their week-old child bedecked in foul Minnie Mouse daywear, we still felt like the head-turning novelty.
With our passports and cash in hand (even love has an admin fee) it might well have been an out-of-hours Vegas chapel of love. Bang goes all romance, gold harps and confetti stitched together from wild dove feathers when the legalities kick in and “Marriage” laws are pinned above you like prison regulations. In fact, it felt like a parole meeting in reverse. Fortunately, the lovely Jenny was to be our registrar and came bounding out, hand extended and clip-file poised. No doubt the dull flow of her day was broken by the gays and potential dinner chat kudos, but I was instantly enamored. She was a dead ringer for Rupert Everett as Miss Fritton in St Trinian's — which may have been the reason we overlooked her toothy declarations about how ,"Gay weddings are always fabulous, apart from a Star Trek one I once oversaw which was just plain misguided. You’re not doing Star Trek are you?"
Such a query stopped us dead. Were we? We cannot remember. No, we don’t think so. Do we have to?
And that is when we clicked: Jenny was testing us. This was not just about intent to marry and wed-min. This was about checking we were not green card-seeking charlatans. When her stapler wasn’t working and she wondered if we could have a look, I instantly assumed that was a test too. And just as she asked for our zip-code (and not for the first time) Elliot was asked to leave the room so we could be interviewed separately. "Nothing to worry about," grinned Jenny as that Fritton grin became slightly maniacal and she tried curve-balling me with yet another zip-code request. I was assuming Elliot was put in a soundproof booth with piped easy listening tracks whilst I sweated out the details for Miss Fritton. So far, so very '70s game show. When quizzed on our own, however, I could not remember my Dad’s middle name, Elliot could not remember what he did for a living, and I couldn’t add up the years we’d known each other.
Jenny tried to give sage-like advice. "A happy wedding is an organized wedding," she beamed as two guys suddenly felt neither organized nor happy, gently sinking into a pool of wed-ministrative errors. Various verbal missives of advice, assumptions and blind nodding on our part followed before Jenny looked over the top of her glasses like the headmistress we already felt we had been summoned to. ‘Have you set a date and got a registrar?’ she asked, staring. She knew we hadn’t. She was being kind and trying to move things on for us, but it suddenly felt like a reality show audition where we hadn’t brought our music. And with her pen lodged emergency-style into her mouth, Jenny tapped her nails into a council phone-set and proceeded to call up Linda, the registrar near to the venue we loosely had in mind.
In about five seconds, the last possible calendar day for the venue and registrar was ours, the latter was booked, we had a wedding date and at least two county clerics and a toothless ex-con were already it seems trying to gate-crash. It was a date we would have to tell people, our parents, our friends and ourselves. "I find these things are better to be sorted early on," grinned Jenny with the pen still in her teeth and our tails between our legs in frozen shock. "How exciting," she declared, "I wish I could be there! You can send out your STD cards now!’
She meant our Save The Date cards of course, but at this stage in the interrogation I was no longer sure. Save the date? We couldn’t even save the stapler. But meanwhile the clucky Jenny and faceless Linda had between them determined the day, county and possibly even venue of our marriage. And we let them! To be fair, our wedding needed that rocket up its backside. Though we didn’t expect to go into the registry office as fiancés and come out like we’d been waterboarded into marriage. For 15 days now someone we do not know in a town we do not know can object to our proposed union as pinned on some other equally out-of-date county notice board. It was at this moment we realized that marriage (equal or otherwise) is not just between a man and his loved one or a fountain pen and a signed document. It is a legal and civic contract where the names and occupations of fathers still have an almost Tudor importance. The whole thing is very much between the civilian and the state, the individual and some administrative "chapel" for which we have no address. Did we all factor that in when waving our pro-gay marriage flags and eating our rainbow striped wedding cake? It seems bureaucracy has no prejudices. Or pre-paid envelopes.
And on that endnote, Jenny made a coy reminder that “since you have told me today you are opting for a marriage under the auspices of a registrar, you cannot reference anything religious in your service.” And with that almost godly missive — "please remember that from this point on thou shalt not have any reference to Jesus or God in your choice of ceremony music" — we left feeling as conspicuous and shell-shocked as that newborn dressed as Minnie Mouse. At which point my mind scanned the lyrics of Xanadu in a fearful panic.
Next up in TALES FROM THE THRESHOLD: two gay men try navigating the [straight] bride world of wedding venues and realise that public displays of affection in-front of parents and family might need their own wedding day rehearsal.