On Valentine’s Day in 1991, I was one of a group of York University students who partnered with political group OutRage! to stage a mock wedding outside the minster. Two young women were pronounced “wife and wife”, and two young men “husband and husband”.
It seemed like science fiction. Gay people would surely never be able to get married within our lifetimes. We all shivered a little, partly with the subversive thrill of suggesting something so radical and partly because it was an unseasonably freezing morning, with snow covering the ground.
“Love is not a crime!” I shouted through a megaphone, with a slight tinge of sadness. I felt sure that such a display of romantic commitment would never be available to me in real life. Coupled with that, one of the women “marrying” her girlfriend was Kate, someone on whom I had a painfully unrequited crush.
A couple of years later, I travelled to London with that same group of young activists to attend my first Pride. The march was followed by a magical celebration in Brockwell Park, with fireworks that lit up the sky at the end of the night. It felt utterly transformative to be surrounded by so many other people who were like me. I was no longer a weird outsider. Watching queer performers in the cabaret tent inspired me to embark upon a creative career in music, comedy and writing. I could take centre stage. Just like Kate.
Pride had given me a voice. Yet marriage still seemed a distant dream.
On graduating, I moved to London, forgot all about Kate, and boarded a romantic rollercoaster that kickstarted a lifetime’s obsession with writing and speaking about break-ups. Relationships with women just didn’t seem to last. Yet sometimes, the possibilities for constant reinvention it facilitated made me think that perhaps serial monogamy wasn’t actually so bad. It felt exciting to live an authentic life outside the rules and constraints of conventional coupledom by which straight female friends felt governed.
So when, in 2014, same sex marriage became a legal reality in the UK, I wondered if it was something lesbians should really crave after all. I still couldn’t picture my own wedding.
Yet in 2016, aged 45, I fell in love with someone new. I had been in love before, but this was different. Armed with all that I had learned from my previous relationships and break-ups, I felt better equipped to consciously choose a more suitable partner. To my surprise, the idea of marriage started to appear now and then in our conversations. A few years later, she casually proposed while we were walking the dog in the park.
So far, so dreamy. However, being women who had never pictured getting married, planning how our ceremony should look and feel was incredibly stressful and emotional. What should we wear? How many people should we invite? Will it still feel special if we don’t have a lavish wedding? Both our freelance incomes had taken a battering during the pandemic, so it seemed crazy to blow what savings we did have on just one day.
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Eventually, we agreed that an intimate wedding with close family felt just right. And it was perfect that it fell at the start of Pride month, a celebratory nod to the rebellious outsiders and activists who had once inspired me with their loud chants and anarchistic songs.
If the idealistic student I once was could see me now, she might think I’d lost my edginess. Yet if we are to change the world a little bit, perhaps it’s better to subtly alter the institution of marriage from within. If we are always shouting on the fringes of society, albeit through megaphones, the only people who can hear us often already agree with us.
If we can play a small part in altering perceptions of what a married couple can look like, marriage becomes more accessible to everyone. And surely that’s something to feel a little bit proud of.
Rosie Wilby is a comedian and the author of ‘The Breakup Monologues’, published by Bloomsbury
The Independent is the official publishing partner of Pride in London 2022