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Croydon couple welcome gay marriage vote but stress there's 'still some way to go'

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GAY MARRIAGE: Last week's vote on same-sex nuptials split the Conservative Party and sparked lively debate across the borough. We spoke to a Croydon couple who are now able to plan a wedding... "WE MET at a pub 13 years ago in Streatham, and to be honest it was love at first sight – if you believe in that sort of thing.

"We just talked for hours all night. It was instant."

Leigh Armstrong's account of meeting the love of his life could be that of any south Londoner.

But because of legislation barring same-sex couples from marrying, he and Drew Crawford have been forced to make do with a civil partnership.

Now, however, the Shirley couple, who had a civil partnership ceremony on June 13, 2009, are considering "putting the icing on the cake" with a full wedding.

Drew, 43, said: "We were lucky in that our immediate families and close friends could see that ours is a loving, committed, monogamous relationship, no different from a straight couple's.

"Several of our friends still say, nearly four years on, it was the best 'wedding' they had been to."

Leigh, 50, and Drew say they have found their civil partnership fulfilling, but still came across inequalities.

Leigh explained: "I would sign up at the doctor's surgery and you'd have to fill out a form, and it would say single, married, divorced, or other.

"There was no civil partnered box. I had to tick 'other'. And I'm not an other. It would also be difficult when looking for a flat.

"You tell the estate agent that you're looking for a one-bedroom house for two men and they just put the phone down."

The couple believe any small move in the right direction brings them one step closer to stopping incidents like that from happening.

Leigh said: "After the initial homophobia in the mid-20th century, we beat that, then HIV came along and put us back, and we had to beat that.

"When civil partnerships came in it felt like a really big step. Gay marriage is now the icing on the cake and will hopefully fix all the little things that can make life difficult for us.

"It's not about jumping on the marriage bandwagon, but about removing barriers, to be able to do something you weren't able to do before. It's about choice."

Drew told the Advertiser that although the new law was a step in the right direction, there was still some way to go.

He said: "While we claim to celebrate diversity in the UK, I see gay marriage in its current form as a baby step, which is more than welcome, but a shame that gay and lesbian couples who follow a religious faith will still be discriminated against.

"This is not an issue for us as neither of us are hypocritical so we wouldn't want a religious ceremony anyway. It would be nice to have the option, though, like straight couples.

"If we do now get married it will probably be a conversion – we won't expect friends to stump up for another toaster."

The Croydon Area Gay Society has hailed the vote a step forward for equality. Speaking on behalf of the organisation, committee member Ross Burgess said: "Not everyone is in agreement with this new law, mostly for religious reasons, or because they think marriage is an outdated institution, but overall this is a great thing. "The majority of the LGBT community are in great favour of this, and it will also help transgendered people who had to get divorced if they wanted to legally change their sex, which is of course very upsetting. "I think this is a very positive move forward. Not that many years ago I was reading books that said gay marriage was impossible – and look at us now." However, some religious communities remain opposed to the Bill. The Reverend Canon James Pannett, the parish priest at St John the Baptist Church in Purley, told the Advertiser: "The Catholic Church continues to support marriage, understood by society for centuries as the significant and unique lifelong commitment between a man and a woman for their mutual wellbeing and open to the procreation and education of children. "Marriage is rooted in the complementarity of man and woman. "For these reasons the Church opposes the Government's bill to redefine marriage. "Despite claims by supporters of the bill that the central issue is one of equality, the bill actually seeks to redefine marriage and will have consequences for society at large. "It became clear during the debate in the House of Commons that the Government has not thought through a number of profound problems in the bill raised by members of parliament during the debate. "It will be extremely important that the many concerns we and others have expressed will be fully and carefully considered during the next stages of the bill's passage through Parliament."

Croydon couple welcome gay marriage vote but stress there's 'still some way to go'


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