March 28, 2014 at 8:24 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Same-sex marriage law takes effect in England, Wales
Peter McGrait, David Cabreza, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, England, Great Britain, gay news, Washington Blade

Peter McGraith and David Cabreza were the first same-sex couple to legally marry in England on March 29. (Photo by Alicia Clarke)

A law that allows same-sex marriage in England and Wales has taken effect.

Peter McGraith and David Cabreza, who have been together for 17 years, exchanged vows at Islington Town Hall in London shortly after midnight in the U.K. (8 p.m. EST.) Peter Tatchell, a British LGBT rights advocate, witnessed the wedding.

“We are thrilled to be getting married,” said McGraith before he and Cabreza exchanged vows. “It is a mark of significant social progress in England and Wales that the legal distinction between gay and straight relationships has been removed.”

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the arrival of marriage rights for same-sex couples in England and Wales.

“The introduction of same-sex civil marriage says something about the sort of country we are,” he said in an op-ed that Pink News published exclusively. “It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth. It also sends a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality. It clearly says ‘you are equal’ whether straight or gay.”

The British Embassy in D.C. hosted a reception to commemorate the law taking effect.

“I’m particularly delighted the British Embassy can add another step forward towards the march for equal marriage,” said Rosalind Campion, counselor for global issues at the British Embassy in Washington, as she discussed the civil partnership into which she and her partner entered five years ago.

“This is about equal rights for everybody, whoever they are,” Deputy British Ambassador to the U.S. Patrick Davies told the Washington Blade before same-sex couples began to legally marry in England and Wales.

LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and across Europe also celebrated the law taking effect.

“The advent of marriage is a further historic step in the journey to full equality for lesbian and gay people in England and Wales and contributes significantly to the growing international momentum for equality,” said Kieran Rose, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network in Ireland. “A very strong message of inclusion, value, respect and equality is being sent to people everywhere.”

Catholic Voices criticized Stonewall and other British LGBT advocacy groups that backed the same-sex marriage bill.

“Despite the claims of lobbies and the government’s own wishful thinking, gay marriage will not strengthen marriage,” said Catholic Voices earlier this week in a blog post.

Iceland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples alongside 18 states, D.C. and Mexico City.

The Scottish Parliament last month approved a same-sex marriage bill that will take effect later this year. A referendum on whether gays and lesbians can exchange vows in Ireland will take place next year.

Same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships in the U.K. since 2005.

Great Britain, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

The British embassy held a celebration on Friday night. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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