Comment: Why we wanted our own ‘First Big Fat Gay Asian Wedding’
One of the first gay couples to marry in England and Wales, Subodh Rathod and Niranjan Kamatkar, write for PinkNews on organising their wedding in Haringey.
The first same-sex marriages took place on Saturday, the 29 March 2014 in England and Wales.
When the government announced that the wedding date was advanced to the 29th, we felt it was the right moment to book a slot with our local wedding registrar, at Civic Centre in Wood Green, North London.
Having supported the Same-Sex marriage bill, which was successfully presented by the then Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone MP and as we work in her parliamentary constituency, it was only natural that we wanted to opt for marrying on the first day. Also exactly 19 years ago on that day we exchanged our ‘marital vows’ on a beautiful but quiet beach of Nargol, on border of Indian states of Gujarat and Maharashtra – where our parents originally came from. Although we supported and campaigned for civil partnerships, for us, it was ‘marriage or nothing’.
Both of us are of Indian origin and wanted to celebrate our union in presence of senior family members, work colleagues, friends, straight and gay couples, and people who have been part of our lives for over the last 19 years and more. It was a delightful occasion, everything went smoothly as planned and everyone, including the Haringey registry office staff, was brilliant in their support. In a true spirit of celebration, the registrar kindly brought along his partner. We added a few touches to ceremony that were spiritual in nature, but contents may have looked more Asian ‘Lite’ rather than ‘a new age-ish’ style.
We wanted to keep things simple and planned the event ourselves, with very limited resources at our disposal. Whilst we both have experience of managing large events, trying to be ‘expert’ wedding planners, was a humbling experience. There were a few commonalities though – spending endless late nights trying to search for the best deals, relying upon our contact base to help come up with magical solutions!
The joy shown on of the faces of the 120 odd guests was hopefully indicative of their approval with the arrangements. Organising any wedding must be an achievement, let alone a same sex wedding for a ‘mature’ couple like us. People continued to join the guest list till the last minute, probably demonstrated that they wanted to share this unique day with us.
We are happy that both the MPs in Haringey where we work and live, Lynne Featherstone along with David Lammy attended the wedding. Also local Mayor Cllr. Sheila Peacock and PinkNews founder and publisher Benjamin Cohen and his partner were present in their glamourous outfits.
Benjamin has been a vocal and successful campaigner for Equal Marriage rights and is one of the trustees of arts charity Wise Thoughts for nearly last 5 years, where both of us work.
Hillary Clinton said in her ground-breaking speech ‘gay rights are human rights’: We know the names of brave LGBT activists who have literally given their lives for this cause, and there are many more whose names we will never know.
We both believe there is also a category of LGBT people, activists and campaigners who never get due credit, who are not fully recognised for their contributions to the society.
We don’t suppose we can ever fully answer the question -‘why it was important for us to get married’. As both of us are on the verge of facing our 50s soon, marriage may not seem like a priority in our lives. In the last 19 years, we made conscious efforts to highlight our relationship and sometimes received recognition surprisingly from the most unexpected sources. That does not mean we did not have our fair share of challenges. But we hope that the toughest ones seem to be behind us as the community, society, friends, majority of family members have accepted us for who we are, however long and difficult the process might have been for some of them.
The congratulatory messages, calls, texts haven’t stopped coming in since our big day. A latest one says, “I’m so happy for you guys. Really! What an inspiration you are to so many South Asian gays. A million congratulations.”
We wanted to acknowledge and thank everyone for being a part of the joyous moment. The support people have shown not only several times in our lives, but also on the historic day for humankind, was very touching. We particularly wanted to express our gratitude to often forgotten millions of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex people around the world, before us, for their hard work. We are clear in our awareness that their efforts in their own ways and / or great suffering over the thousands of years have afforded us the privilege and the realisation of this moment.
In London, the mood seemed to be euphoric when the sun shone on a number of newlyweds and a number of champagne receptions must have continued well into the night.
On our way back home, the car carrying us, broke down and we had to get out and push it along with few people from the wedding party in their full Indian wedding fineries. A few passersby joined in to give a push before having a hearty laugh. It must have been the most hilarious sight that week, when an old man captured us trying to push the car stuck in the middle of London traffic.
We hope our marriage and marriages of many other same-sex couples will send out a message that future generations of Same-Sex couples in England and Wales (and Scotland following soon) would not have to face any discrimination now, whatever might be their age, colour, religion, status, etc. Rather than merely exercising our right to marry under the law, we hope our marriage will help demonstrate that we stand along with a number of LGBTQI people in the world, united in our efforts and together with them in their struggle and fight for equality.
Underneath all these (seemingly too long) messages, we are acutely aware that this positive step towards attaining equal rights may result in a backlash against individuals from fanatic groups and / or from a section of the media.
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To many it may look like an entirely naïve belief that as a couple, we can talk about positive developments from a safe distance. However, having worked on culturally sensitive sexuality related issues and projects across South Asia, in East European countries and for a few International development agencies in the past, we recognise change can happen when you get the strategies right. It is possible when we work effectively on them. The strategies should not solely depend upon quiet diplomacy. LGBTQI people across the world still continue to fall victims to horrible hate crimes on a daily basis. Each of us needs to raise our voice against a culture of social injustice.
We try to play our modest role, as a part of our work, through social media of Wise Thoughts and @GFEST, the annual London LGBTQI art festival that Wise Thoughts organises.
Several people asked where are we going on our honeymoon? We must have looked a bit awkward when replied, “Nowhere, we are back to work on Monday.” Perhaps, we don’t have anything better do with our lives. However we look forward to visiting some countries, when they repeal their anti gay laws.
When we first met in Mumbai (Bombay) nearly 20 years ago, at the first South Asian Gay conference, we could not have envisaged the progress achieved by LGBTQI people on several fronts. Then in our late twenties, we could have only wished for it, but didn’t really know that it takes a lot to learn, listen, build upon strengths and reduce weaknesses. There is still a need to work together with diverse people at the grassroots and develop new skills to be really efficient change makers.
We realise that the struggle for equal rights is also largely dependent upon the capacity of hugely resourceful and extremely generous individuals as well as organisations from LGBTQI communities and we would like to appeal to every person to try and actively contribute to LGBTQI voluntary organisations that are working towards delivering equality in their own way. NOW is the time to shift to the full cultural acceptance in the diverse world that we live, and to ensure ‘Equality in All Walks of Life’.
Subodh Rathod and Niranjan Kamatkar work for North London based arts charity Wise Thoughts. They would be very pleased if you would like to support the work of the organisation :