Ceremonies

IN 1987 the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) decided to set up a Humanist secular ceremony service for lesbian and gay couples who were non-religious as the alternative to the gay Christian “blessing” provided (usually clandestinely)  by some clergy, and this service to the lesbian and gay community was subsequently taken over by the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT). Instead of “wedding” it was decided to use the term “affirmation” as the ceremony enables couples to affirm their love and commitment to each other.

The first step was to establish a nationwide network of celebrants willing to undertake the ceremonies and most of these were recruited from those already acting on behalf of the British Humanist Association which arranges weddings, namings (instead of Christenings) and funerals for heterosexual couples. The network eventually extended from Scotland in the North to the Channel Islands in the South and with the help of advertising (mainly in Gay Times) became very popular. The couple usually invited their friends and relatives to the ceremonies and good public relations accrued.

The text of the ceremony varied according to the individual celebrant and he/she always met the couple in advance to discuss it in detail and take note of any special requests they had. The central part of the ceremony enabled the couple to make pledges of love and commitment to each other and exchange rings. Afterwards, a friend or relative was invited to propose a toast to the couple who then signed the decorative certificate provided, together with a witness. Music chosen by the couple was played.

The ceremony was featured in a Channel 4 TV programme in 1987 and one in BBC 2’s Gaytime TV series in 1999 in which twelve couples took part. It was also featured in The Wedding – an exhibition which toured UK museums and art galleries from 1988-89. It was listed in the Which? Guide to Getting Married and the London partnerships register information pack issued by the Greater London Authority.

Although the PTT arranged for a celebrant to conduct the ceremony, it was up to the couple themselves to arrange the venue and any celebration to follow. Choices for the venue included the couple’s own home (outside if there was a garden and weather permitted), a gay-friendly club, pub, hotel or restaurant where a room could be hired for the occasion, Conway Hall Humanist Centre in London and the GLA’s City Hall overlooking the Thames. More adventurous venues included a canal narrow boat, a Thames launch, the lido at a London park and – perhaps one of the most prestigious – the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

With the introduction of Civil Partnership legislation in 2004, lesbian and gay couples were able to have a secular ceremony if they wished after registering their partnership at registry offices, so the PTT ceremony became superfluous.