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Thursday 09 October 2008

AJ and Thomas

Posted in: Civil Unions
By Chris Banks - 29th January 2006

Thomas & AJ
This is the first in an exclusive series talking to gay and lesbian couples who have tied the knot, discussing the trials and thrills of their big day. Allan-John Barber Marsh (28) and Thomas Robert Marsh Barber (22) had been together for thirteen months before deciding to wed...

Did either of you propose?

AJ: No, we were just talking, and saying how much we'd love to marry each other.

THOMAS: We decided we wanted to for reasons of our rights as well as anything else. I've got some deep family rift issues that would mean that Allan could be surpassed if the time came, so I want him to be my legal next-of-kin. That was a big thing. We've only been together for just over a year now, but I knew and so did he as soon as we got together, especially once we moved in together, that he was the one.

How did your families react?

AJ: Very pleased, very happy. My family love Thomas a lot. My dad and sister live in Australia. Dad flew over for the wedding. My sister and her boyfriend flew over.

THOMAS: Everyone's really mother certainly. I would definitely call her a hippie (laughs). She's sort of free love, everything else like that, and she's more than happy. Her and AJ and my two half-brothers, seven and nine, they get on so well...more than happy. Even my extended family in the UK were all very supportive, they didn't have any problems at all. And they can't wait to meet him!

How did you go about building your ceremony?

AJ: We're both Brits, and we wanted to keep it as traditional as possible. There are some very long-standing British wedding traditions which we wanted to maintain as best as possible, especially in the way we both dressed. As we didn't want to have one of us in the ‘female' position, that is, having the father bringing one up the aisle, we decided to toss a coin to see who'd walk up the aisle first. The bride traditionally goes on the left, and as Thomas was wearing a kilt we didn't want any associations with him being a bride because he was wearing a kilt, so I went on the left.

THOMAS: We wanted to build in cultures, we wanted to include all of our family who were there, and also lots of our friends, and so we just talked about what we wanted to be in the ceremony and stuck it together really. There's no precedents at all, so we just did what we wanted.

AJ: We both had a best woman. Rather than have best men and bridesmaids, we mixed up a bit there as well. We both had a male and female in our wedding party to show that gender was not an issue for us.

Did you write vows?

THOMAS: We had our own vows, they were the same but in different languages. Mine was in Gaelic and Allan's were in Welsh.

Did you write them yourself?

THOMAS: No, our celebrant Calum [Bennachie] went through with us and asked us what we wanted to have in there. He already had a few blueprints set aside. We were his first ceremony, but he'd already gone through and decided what things could be in it. We went with that template and changed a few things that we wanted to change.

Was there any religious component to your ceremony?

AJ: There was the Lord's Prayer. We're both Protestant. It was a Catholic chapel, and because we're Protestant we didn't like the idea of the Catholic effigies, so we had those covered up with Heraldic flags, Scottish flags. We sort of Protestantised the chapel, as it were. We acknowledged that we are uniting in the eyes of God.

Any Bible readings?

THOMAS: Yes, from Philippians. AJ's best woman, a girl called Kim, asked if AJ wanted any readings. He said, definitely. It's a really nice passage about love, how love isn't selfish or jealous, just caring and compassionate. Very nice.

Was the religious element particularly important to you both?

AJ: Absolutely. We're still Christian, and also it's important for us to do this to show that queer people can be and are Christian. God is a loving god, and they [fundamentalists] can't usurp our God for their own means.

THOMAS: We both have religious heritages and wanted to include that. I was brought up in a religious family, and Allan was as well. So we wanted to include that because we saw that as being who we are. And we wanted to include that in our ceremony.

Have you legally changed your names?

AJ: Not yet, but we are. We're taking each other's surnames as legal middle names.

What was behind that decision?

AJ: We didn't really want to give up our surnames, or change them, because I've already got a double-barrelled first name as it is. So it's really about some sort of adoption of the other person.

Did anything take you by surprise during the organising?

THOMAS: I didn't really organise much to be honest (laughs). Allan was the organiser. I was there on the day setting up, and we had to suddenly rush and get a few more tablecloths, but apart from that it went pretty smoothly really (laughs).

AJ: Apart from the fact that you think you're being swamped and everything seems to be getting on top of you? Some of our friends actually didn't seem to realise it was a real wedding, they talked about ‘you're having a civil union', but I think that's all about semantics. The event itself can and is a wedding, because a wedding doesn't have to belong to marriage. We had some people say to us that they didn't like the fact that we were calling it a wedding, or calling each other husbands. We actually got some flak for that.

THOMAS: ‘Partner' is pretty generic. I'm proud to be able to say Allan is my husband, and legally he is my husband, so it's nice to be able to use the word and not have people abuse you and say it's not true because it is.

Any other surprises?

AJ: Some friends were asking us ‘do we have to get dressed up'? And some people actually came to our wedding dressed in say, jeans. This is a formal wedding! The fact that people assumed it was going to be some sort of party or any other event or booze-up was very offensive. I was not so much taken aback as I thought it was a bit funny. It's nice that most people took it seriously. A few didn't. Most people were surprised when they got there and realised – hey this is actually in a church, it's all been done up, there are flowers everywhere, this is a real wedding.

Was it your gay or your straight friends not taking it seriously?

AJ: Gay people. Straight have never said, it's not a wedding, it's a civil union, but only gay people have turned around and said you're not having your wedding, it's a civil union. Most of our gay friends made a big effort too, but the exceptions were the gay people.

What were the best and worst parts of the day?

THOMAS: Best bit was walking down the aisle at the end of the ceremony... so great. It really was. Seeing everyone there, everyone was sort of smiling and waving and everyone was so happy for us. That was really special actually. Worst part was trying to get the photos done. That was a bit of a nightmare. Wedding photographers want you to do this and that, and they boss you around, and you just want to get down and meet everyone. Also, the weather wasn't perfect, which made the photos harder because we had to do them inside.

AJ: Best part for me was seeing how handsome Thomas was. Worst part was probably the hangover from the stag night the night before! My neck was giving me awful trouble. Even in the video, I'm just consistently stretching my neck. I couldn't control myself.

How did you arrange your stag night?

THOMAS: We had separate ones on the same night. We started together then deviated. AJ got dressed up in drag and got absolutely hammered, fell over and did his knee in.

AJ: My friend Paul, he was in my wedding party and the toastmaster... I said, "do you want to organise it for me?" And we went on a pub crawl. Paul bought a dress for me. I have some photos somewhere. I actually looked quite good in it! I had a wig and a dress, and it was very tight, nothing left to the imagination. My friend Maddy was pulling me around saying, this woman's getting married tomorrow she needs kissing. About a dozen of my friends, guys and girls, straight and gay, came around and we went from bar to bar.

THOMAS: I was supposedly having my party organised by my friend Aaron, and Aaron being Aaron is very unorganised (laughs), and so I turned up and he said – I've got some sausage rolls for you but that's about it. So I said OK (laughs). I went and got some wine and we just sat around and chatted. There were about a dozen people there max, it was pretty calm really.

Do you feel any different now?

AJ: I feel a lot more mature. I think my love for Thomas has grown immensely. We feel completely and utterly attached now. I've never been ashamed of my sexuality, but now we are a couple, we live as a couple, we walk around together as a couple, and the reactions of heterosexuals do not bother me in the slightest. I really don't care. It's completely irrelevant what they think, and I have no respect for their opinions. And I'm stronger in that now.

THOMAS: Obviously it's different legally, and in some respects I feel more secure, because of the legal protections. But in our relationship nothing's changed I would say, to be honest. We've been living together for quite a while beforehand, and acting as though we were married anyway.

Any advice for other couples getting married?

THOMAS: Definitely go for it if you're ready... one thing – we didn't get one of those books for people to sign and put messages in. Maybe that's something to remember. I had a friend from university who turned up and said – where's the book? Apart from that, I wouldn't have changed a thing.

AJ: Make sure it's the right person for you. We're setting an example here for our people. We have to be very secure in what we're doing, we can't be seen to be making mistakes, because it reflects very badly on us. If we do badly, it's completely exaggerated. We have to be so careful. So make sure you don't let us all down!

Chris Banks - 29th January 2006