Adam Ash

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sir Elton gets hitched

Celebrity Trumps Sexuality at a Civil English Ceremony -- by SARAH LYALL

WINDSOR, England, Dec. 21 - If there were any demonstrators in the crowd, either pro- or anti-gay, they were being unusually quiet. No one was screaming religious slogans, carrying angry placards, wearing in-your-face outfits or loudly forecasting the end of civilization as we know it.

Well-wishers gathered to greet them. Hundreds of same-sex couples planned to legalize their relationships as a new civil partnership law took effect in England Wednesday.

The most striking thing, in fact, about the people gathered along the streets here on Wednesday for Sir Elton John's civil partnership ceremony with his boyfriend, David Furnish, was how little they appeared to care, one way or the other, about the couple's sexuality.

"They're all doing it now, aren't they?" said 55-year-old Margaret Gray, who described herself as a fan of Sir Elton, particularly his song "Candle in the Wind."

"I think he's been open about everything, bless him, and I'm pleased for him."

Down the street, Rita Divico, 59, said of homosexuality that "it's not something that's in my nature." But each to his own, she added.

"If that's what they want to do, it's up to them," said Mrs. Divico, who was born in Italy and is a Roman Catholic. "If it makes them happy, carry on." She herself has been married for 42 years, she said, "too long."

Sir Elton, 58, and Mr. Furnish, 43, have lived together since 1994, after meeting at a mutual friend's dinner party, but they have been legally prevented from making honest men of each other. That changed on Wednesday, when Britain's new civil partnership law took effect in England, allowing gay couples to legalize their relationships.

The law was passed in 2004 and has been taking effect in different parts of Britain this week, starting in Northern Ireland on Monday. The government said that 687 gay couples had registered their intention to make their partnerships official on Wednesday, and that as many as 22,000 couples might take advantage of the new law in the next five years.

Although it stops short of calling the new arrangement marriage, unlike in the Netherlands, Canada, Spain and Belgium, the legislation gives gay couples legal rights similar to those of married people in areas like inheritance, immigration and pensions, as well as responsibilities in areas like child-rearing.

Sir Elton, long one of British show business's best-loved figures, is not known for his low-key approach to anything, and, after an early and unsuccessful marriage to a woman, he has never made a secret of his homosexuality. In concert, he wears enormous kooky sunglasses, platform shoes, glitter and, on one occasion, a chicken costume; he once admitted to spending £290,000 (about $512,000 at current rates) on flowers in an 18-month period.

He has a decidedly common touch that he solidified when he sang "Candle in the Wind" at the funeral of Diana, the Princess of Wales. But Sir Elton is also a celebrity's celebrity, offering counseling and refuge in his many homes to famous friends who are addicted to drugs or other substances, unhappy in love or, in the case of Elizabeth Hurley, eager to lose the weight they gained while pregnant. He is a darling of celebrity magazines and reportedly turned down a multimillion-pound offer for the media rights to the event.

On Wednesday, he kept it dignified, arriving for the service at the Guildhall, in the shadow of Windsor Castle, wearing a dark suit and a diamond pin. Mr. Furnish, who is Canadian and makes films, also wore a dark suit.

The Guildhall is the same place, as it happens, where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were married last spring. But while the royal couple went on to have a blessing in church and a reception at the castle sponsored by Queen Elizabeth, the nonroyals skipped the church (Church of England clergy members are not allowed to perform gay partnership ceremonies, anyway) and prepared for a big party, without the queen but probably with better food, at their house in Old Windsor.

Only a select few guests attended the Guildhall ceremony. Among those present were Mr. Furnish's black-and-white spaniel, Arthur, and the photographer Sam Taylor-Wood, who later described the ceremony as "beautiful" and "very emotional." Guests said the 20-minute service ended with a kiss.

The parents of both grooms were also there. Mr. Furnish's mother, Gladys, told reporters afterward that she was "very proud." His father, Fred, said it was "one of the happiest days of my life."

Mr. Furnish and Sir Elton emerged from the Guildhall beaming, to cheers from onlookers. Although they did not kiss outside, robbing the tabloid photographers of the photograph of the day, they blew kisses at the crowd before sweeping into a black car and driving off. Sir Elton mouthed the words "I love you" in the general direction of the well-wishers.

At his monthly news conference at Downing Street, Prime Minister Tony Blair sent his congratulations.

"I wish him and David well, and all the other people exercising their rights under the civil partnerships law," Mr. Blair said. "I think it is a modern, progressive step for the country, and I am proud we did it."

Not everyone feels that way.

Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, a group that wants to put religion at the forefront of politics and whose Web site displays the phrase "the enemies of God are all having their say," told The Press Association that "ordinary people will be revolted by the sight of these couples embracing."

He continued, speaking of the new legislation, "The recognition in our law of what the Bible describes as an abomination and vile affection will bring judgment on our land from the same Almighty God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah."

Outside the Guildhall, Gloria Pugh and her husband, John, were not thinking about Sodom or Gomorrah. They just wanted to see Sir Elton, and any other celebrity who happened to be in the neighborhood.

"As long as they don't bother me, I'm not bothered," Mr. Pugh, 61, said of gay couples.

In fact, he added, Mrs. Pugh has a gay uncle who has been with his own partner for many years. Because of the new law, the family is wondering whether the couple will make it legal.


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