MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Two women made legal history in Britain today. They became the first same-sex couple in the UK to take part in a so-called gay wedding. Sharon Sickles and Grainne Close exchanged vows in Belfast City Hall. Under Britain's new Civil Partnership Act, they now have virtually the same legal and financial rights as a heterosexual married couple. Joining us from the "Marketplace" bureau in London is Stephen Beard.
And, Stephen, was today's ceremony controversial?
STEPHEN BEARD reporting:
Nationally, I would say not very. I mean, the idea has been around for some time of these civil partnerships or gay marriages. We've had debates in Parliament when the bill was going through. The country's had several years to get used to the idea. Nevertheless, when the first couple, Sharon and Grainne, tied the knot in Belfast today, there were protests. There were some angry demonstrations. Here's what one of the protesters, the Reverend David McLaughlin of the Free Presbyterian Church, had to say.
Reverend DAVID McLAUGHLIN (Free Presbyterian Church): We believe that God instituted marriage in the beginning between man and woman. I know it's a common cliche: God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
BEARD: This protest, in fact, was entirely predictable. If you have to choose the worst place to stage the country's first gay wedding, it would have to be Northern Ireland. It's a deeply conservative place. In fact, Northern Ireland was the last region in the UK to decriminalize homosexuality. It did that in 1982, something like 15 years after England and Wales.
BRAND: Well, then why was Britain's first gay wedding held in Belfast?
BEARD: It was a procedural quirk, really. Northern Ireland simply got the shortest time lapse between applying to get wed and the ceremony happening. Scotland, though, is not far behind. The first gay wedding takes place there tomorrow. And England's first will be on Wednesday. And incidentally, Elton John and his long-term male partner will get hitched here on Wednesday.
BRAND: And will these weddings make a big difference financially for the gay couples?
BEARD: Yes, they'll get the same tax breaks and welfare entitlements as a married couple, and there are things like inheritance taxes. Before the new law, when one partner in a gay relationship died, it meant that inheritance taxes would have to be paid on one-half of their house, which often meant that the surviving partner would be turfed out of a house that he may have lived in for years just to pay the tax. That won't happen anymore. The property will pass to the surviving spouse without taxation, as it does now between man and wife.
BRAND: And I expect the wedding business will benefit hugely.
BEARD: Yeah, absolutely. Big time. It's expected that more than 22,000 gay couples will tie the knot over the next five years. The average spent on heterosexual weddings here is about $30,000, so do the math. We could be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of extra business for the weddings industry.
BRAND: Stephen Beard of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace." And "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media.
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