HARTLEPOOL’S ceremonial mayor claims today’s milestone move to make gay marriage legal is a political one.
The first gay weddings will take place across England and Wales today after the government’s legislation received the Royal Assent last July.
The main difference will be that religious readings, music or symbols – currently banned during civil partnerships – will now be allowed.
Councillor Stephen Akers-Belcher and his civil partner of eight years, Hartlepool Borough Council leader, Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, made history last May as part of the first civil partnership in the country to hold top council positions.
He says the change is “political posturing” by the Conservatives to try to show acceptance of gay people.
But borough councillor and town Conservative group leader, Councillor Ray Martin-Wells – who himself joined in a civil partnership with Andrew Martin-Wells on February 28, disagrees.
Coun Akers-Belcher, who represents the Manor House ward, said: “Personally I think it’s been a political move by the Conservative party to make an attempt to show that they are accepting of gay people.”
But he said although he and Christopher are “happy the way we are” and won’t be rushing to have a legal marriage as it is all down to personal choice, he was pleased that other gay people could now show their commitment in this way. “I think it’s great and if people want to do that and have the ceremonies then that’s progress for people,” he said.
“But I think it’s political posturing and I won’t be in a rush to go out and get married.
“If there are churches who are willing to have those services and it can be done, then that’s really positive.”
Coun Martin-Wells, who represents the Rural West ward, said: “I would strongly disagree with Stephen on that.
“I think they have done it for all the right reasons, there is no reason why gay people shouldn’t be afforded all the same rights as everybody else.
“I whole-heartedly support the Equal Marriages Act coming in today.”
He said as soon as the legislation is in place he and his partner would be seeking to convert their civil partnership to a marriage.
Despite today’s historic landmark, a Radio 5 Live survey found one in five Britons would not attend a gay wedding.
Coun Akers-Belcher said: “I just think it’s sad really that it’s still a big issue in society.
“Some people are gay, get over it, so what?
“As a society we need to be moving away from labels of people – not many people get branded straight.”
Coun Martin-Wells said: “These figures surprise me immensely.
“When we sent out or invitations we had virtually a full uptake of the guests invited.
“None had any issues, in actual fact the guests who we might have expected to have had issues commented afterwards that it was an extremely moving experience for them.”