Kieran Kenny from Donegal and Emmanuel Moreno from Mexico who are engaged to be married

The Vow

Our big fat, fabulous gay weddings

With the same sex marriage referendum coming up in May, Vicki Notaro visits the Equality Wedding Fair to meet those who are hoping to walk down the aisle for love and marriage

Walking around Dublin city the afternoon after St Valentine's day, love is all around.

Couples are strolling hand in hand, kissing and cuddling. And en route to the Equality Marriage Fair, run by Gay Weddings Ireland, I note with interest that a large portion of the canoodling duos are same sex couples.

A few years ago in Ireland, you mightn't have seen this. But with the same sex marriage referendum on the horizon, people are generally far more accepting of gay couples, who in turn are more confident in displaying their love.

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Not everyone is as accepting as you might think though, as I discover talking to Marian Purcell, who's running the fair, in the Morrison Hotel on the quays. "When civil partnerships came in to Ireland in early 2011, my partner Shane wanted to target the gay community with his business - he's a videographer.

"We looked around online for somewhere to advertise to same sex couples, but couldn't find anything, so I said let's set up our own. Gayweddingsireland.ie is a directory service, where we set up couples with gay-friendly wedding vendors."

Is there much call for specifically finding a gay-friendly service? According to Marian, couples all over the country are sometimes faced with a less-than obliging vendor when it emerges that the engaged parties are of the same sex.

"We're going three years now, and we've spoken to so many couples who have felt uncomfortable at traditional wedding shows," says Marian. "They encounter people who just don't understand their desire to get married, or refuse to work with them. I know couples who have asked vendors 'Are you sure you don't mind that it's a gay wedding?'

"Gay couples are up against it all the time. I've seen polls that say 76pc are planning to vote yes in May, but there is that percentage in opposition. If you're a couple planning a wedding and you meet five of those people in one day, it can feel terrible."

In 2013, Dublin paper store Daintree came under fire after its then owner removed a wedding cake topper featuring two grooms from the store's display. Paul Barnes explained in a letter on the company's Facebook page that he removed the topper because "it does not reflect the values I try to aspire to".

Many people were offended by this reasoning and vowed to boycott the store, but others pointed out that Barnes was entitled to his religious beliefs. Daintree is now under new ownership, and the current manager stocks same sex wedding merchandise.

This wedding fair is not the first of its kind, but it's definitely tinged with the hope that the couples planning their weddings will be able to have a legally binding wedding and not a civil partnership if the referendum passes. Talking to attendees, they want to be pronounced husband and husband, or wife and wife, and have every right that's afforded to straight married couples.

Eddie McGuinness of MarryMeIreland.com says that he's personally looking for an improvement on what he's already got. "I got civil partnered two years ago myself, and I would like the people of Ireland to give us an upgrade. Our families called our ceremony a wedding, because what else are they going to call it? But recently we were getting a car loan, and the guy didn't know what to do with a civil part-nership. This is about looking for civil marriage, not a church marriage. Hopefully we'll have another party, any excuse - especially as the last one was so brilliant."

The interesting thing about the fair is that it's not exclusive to the gay community, the clue being in the title and the word equality; everyone displaying in the Morrison provide services for any kind of couple. "I'm an openly gay celebrant," says Eddie. "But no matter if you're gay or straight, we cater for you, and create services around the couple."

Clare Tunnicliffe of Rosy Days wedding stationery has a display with designs for every kind of couple. "We specialise in personalised design, for people who want something that isn't expected. We're less traditional and I guess we're quite quirky. I've worked with lots of same sex couples, mostly female actually. People like our stuff because they can put their personality into it, their dogs, their camper vans! And it stands out from the crowd, like civil partnerships do."

It's not surprising that this is a very liberal crowd, and the room radiates a safe feeling. "I think it shouldn't be up to the country to decide who can get married," says Sylvia Abraham of Bella Botanica.

"It should be a given. I'm really passionate about it. I think these people could do with a few friendly vendors, because I've heard from couples that they've approached florists and been told they're not available, even though the couple knows they are. It's terrible."

Adrian Lynch of Black and White Events provides photobooths for weddings of any persuasion. "Recently a client asked me if I minded it was a gay wedding, but I said there's no need to ask - it's a wedding. The lady said they were booking a band who seemed to be a bit hesitant. After I heard that I googled to see what was out there for gay weddings, and that's why we're here today - to offer our services."

Kieran Kenny and Emmanuel Moreno have been together only five months, but they tell me they're planning on getting married. When you know, you know? "That's exactly it," says Kieran. I've been waiting for the referendum to pass. We'll be getting married, either in Ireland after the referendum, or going to Mexico and getting it done there, where Manuel is from. We're here to get some ideas. If you go to a normal wedding fair, it's all about the bride, dresses and accessories. Obviously there's no bride, but we're going to have a special day, maybe not as big as a traditional wedding. It's still all up in the air, but it's going to be creative."

David Normoyle and Olivier Perrier have been together for almost 14 years, and engaged for six. "We actually got engaged right here in the Morrison!" David tells me. "Six years ago for his birthday, I booked a suite here and got down on one knee," says Olivier, beaming.

Same sex marriage is legal in Olivier's native France for the last couple of years, but the couple are adamant they want to wed in Ireland. "Our life is here" explains David. Olivier agrees. "We met here, we live here, Dublin has been such a big part of our relationship, so we want to get married here."

They explain they've been waiting until it's marriage and not a civil partnership, and are hopeful that the referendum will pass. "We're waiting until it's an actual wedding," David explains. "I want it all, the legality, everything. It just feels more permanent."

Chatting to the vendors, it's not all just political or lovey-dovey - many are here because they've spotted a business opportunity.

"I've worked at a good few civil ceremonies, it's great," says Elaine Hayes of Candy Corner.

"I've shot five same sex weddings, have two more booked for this year," explains photographer Tim Ralph. "I'm seeing a big rise this year. I think it will be a booming business if the referendum passes. One couple said to me today, it will only be a minor adjustment if we have to go back and do the formalities again."

 

MARRIAGE EQUALITY: THE FACTS 

l Marriage Equality has identified 160 statutory differences between civil partnership and civil marriage.

l 16 countries so far have authourised marriages between people of the same sex, including South Africa, Spain, England and Wales.

l The United States allows marriage in certain states, including New York, California and Connecticut.

l In May, the registered population will be asked to decide whether the following wording should be added to the Constitution: 'Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.'

l A poll published in the Sunday Independent last week states that 22pc of people are still undecided about how they will vote in May.

l By the end of 2013, 1303 civil partnerships had been registered in Ireland according to the Central Statistics Office.

For more information on the referendum see www.yesequality.ie.

Irish Independent