Celebrating 5 Years Of Same-Sex Marriage: "For Us, Marriage Isn't Conventional – It's A Quiet Revolution"

Danielle Wilde and Gemma Rolls-Bentley on their wedding day in 2014

Holly Falconer

As a fully licensed member of London’s Northern diaspora, in times of uncertainty I turn to the cobbled, ancestral lands of Coronation Street. Last week, while fretting about Brexit and the problem of carrier bags in the gigantic guts of whales, I sought solace in the residents of Weatherfield and found them mid-hen party at the Rovers Return. The hen? One half of a young lesbian couple. Neither fiancée seemed to be a murderer or conwoman. Celebrations were not cut short by a train wreck or factory fire. These girls were not a dramatic device. They were simply the depiction of normal domestic lives being broadcast directly into the sitting rooms of six million grannies the length and breadth of the UK.

Growing up as a gangly, closeted teenager in late 1990s Bradford, the only lesbian role models I had were the inmates of HMP Larkhall in Bad Girls. In my Catholic all-girls school, lesbian accusations (or, as we called it, “being a lemon”) gave school the hyper-vigilant atmosphere of Soviet purge. There were no gay clubs at this time, no rainbow flags and such scant possibility of finding a partner that I genuinely believed my best prospect of finding love was to be sent to prison where, as ITV had me believe, the cells were dripping with repressed sapphic intrigue.

Once I realised it was possible to get a girlfriend without being remanded into custody, the idea of marriage seemed far-fetched, even after civil partnerships were introduced in 2004. While civil partnerships marked an important breakthrough in the journey towards equal rights, they never quite captured my imagination. The word “marriage” means something; it has a rich cultural cache. “Civil partner” sounds like you’ve been awarded a contract from the council to tarmac the roads; it doesn’t really evoke the “death do us part” gravitas that you’d want to describe the love of your life.

I met Gemma in May 2012, introduced by a friend who had attended a talk Gemma gave at the Southbank Centre about gender inequality in the art world. She texted me straight afterwards: “I’ve met the girl you’re going to marry”. After some minor private detective work, I thought she was barking up the wrong tree. I felt quite intimidated by Gemma, this chic art world darling. But when Gemma and I spoke for the first time, I felt like I’d come home. We went on our first date a few days later and the morning after, started planning our wedding, as is customary for lesbians.

Danielle Wilde, Gemma Rolls-Bentley and baby Blaise Burns Wilde

Danielle Wilde, Gemma Rolls-Bentley and baby Blaise Burns Wilde

Poppy Roy

In 2017, we celebrated 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and the year of commemoration and celebration programmed across the country gave us many moments to reflect on how far we have come – and how much further we need to go. Homosexuality is officially illegal in 80 countries across the world and punishable by death in 11 of them. Even in the privileged West, rates of homelessness, mental ill health, suicide and hate crime disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community and quality of life is consistently poorer than amongst our heterosexual counterparts.

For some people in our community, marriage is the antithesis of what it means to be queer. Given the track record of how the state has treated our LGBTQ+ family, it is unsurprising that for some, finally having approval from Westminster bureaucrats feels like a slap in the face. Marriage as an institution has a deeply problematic history, particularly if you’re a woman. But after years of coming out, fighting for acceptance and learning to love ourselves for who we are, getting the same legal recognition for our relationship that heterosexuals take for granted was important for us. The state is not the arbiter of love, but the law has sought to define and intervene in LGBTQ+ relationships throughout history. The right to equal marriage may not be the most pressing issue facing the global LGBTQ+ community but, in this country, it does represent one of the last institutional barriers to legal equality. It’s a right that we fought for and one which we took.

On September 6 2014, a few months after the legalisation of equal marriage, our wedding took place at Peckham’s Asylum chapel; a deconsecrated church made spectacular by dereliction. Like the institution of marriage itself, our congregation of fabulous queers breathed new life into this old ruin and created a new kind of ritual outside of history and tradition. In exquisite gowns designed by artist Than Hussein Clark and his Villa Design Group (later exhibited at Frieze London 2017), we chose the parts of a marriage ceremony we liked and discarded those we didn’t, creating something that felt suitably subversive and chic.

They say the camera adds 10lbs. We found that marriage adds 10 years and it was weird how, in the eyes of our friends, being married seemed to transform us overnight from wild-eyed ingenues to people who know about ISAs. People seemed to think that being married meant you had all the answers and while that obviously isn’t true, we did both feel a palpable evolution in our relationship; almost as though the luxury of the rest of our lives together helped us settle and relax.

To us, marriage is a protective and loving space in which two individuals can grow and develop together with the same common purpose. In this time of dystopian global politics and rising sea levels, our marriage is like a luxurious little homestead on the last remaining paradise island. Getting married made us more than lovers, it made us family – that level of security was extremely important to us both. And although you don’t need a piece of paper to legitimise your relationship, I take comfort in the fact that there is an official record of our marriage so that in 200 years we can be remembered by history, unlike so many whose clandestine lives were forgotten forever.

On February 10 of this year, we welcomed the birth of our son, Blaise Burns Wilde. Were we not married, I would have had to formally adopt my son and jump through various other legal hoops to legitimise my role as his mother. Married with children is too conventional a step for some of our friends. But for us, it’s a quiet revolution; a march in the street every time we fill in a form, go to the GP, use the bank. When our son grows up, I hope he won’t be able to even imagine a world in which equal marriage did not exist. And I’m proud to think we have some part to play in that, because we dared to stand up and say “I do”.


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