Passing the Bill
Late last year, Gibraltar caught up with the world’s more forward thinking nations in allowing love to break down some of the constraints that have been built against it for many centuries. Parliament’s unanimous decision to move a bill allowing for civil marriages to be carried out between same sex couples on the Rock was met with a resounding applause. In the initial stages of the movement, a Command paper was published by the Government requesting public feedback about the idea. Minister for Equality, Samantha Sacramento insisted that they received the largest response ever from any Government Command Paper. She told the House that, ‘marriage is a hugely important institution.’ ‘We believe that opening up marriage to all couples demonstrates society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality, making our society fairer and more inclusive for all its members.’
The crusade did not come without the expected disapproving scorns from some small facets of the community, but who would have expected otherwise? Isn’t that precisely why gay marriage has been outlawed for so very many centuries? ‘It is important for us to strike the balance which provides equality and respecting individuals’ beliefs,’ Minister Sacramento went on to say as she presented the Bill, ‘The change strengthens the vital institution of marriage and ensures that it remains an essential building block of modern society.’ Marriage is defined as a socially or ritually recognised union between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, their children and their in-laws. Interestingly, Wikipedia avoids any connection between marriage and love. With both, the LGBT community and society at large having spent so many years staunchly protesting the cause, the sense of satisfaction and pride surely leans further towards the side of devotion, over convenience in administration. The first two to reap the fruits of many years of arduous labour by the Equality Rights Group were Adrian and Aaron Dignam-Mills who cemented their love for each other on 16th December in front of all of their family and friends.
A move towards equality
Having first met in July 2012, Aaron asked his partner’s hand in marriage in 2013, before even the bill allowing civil partnerships on the Rock was conceived. ‘I work for the Borders & Coastguard Agency so I checked his passport, and that’s how we met,’ Adrian gushes. ‘I was crossing the border and he used to spot me every day and one day he called me over to stamp my passport. From there, we started talking and the rest is history,’ Aaron adds. The two smitten newlyweds live in Irish Town with their dogs, Adrian’s daughter Amy and her cat. ‘We don’t argue, if it feels like we’re moving towards an argument, we’ll just agree to disagree. The best thing we’ve done is open a joint account but keep our separate bank accounts too because that way we can manage our own money and we never argue about it.’
By their engagement, Adrian and Aaron were aware of rumours from the Governmental grapevine about the possibility of civil partnerships being allowed on the Rock. ‘The wedding got put on the backburner at that point and we thought we’d let things carry on as they were.’ In March 2014, Parliament passed the bill for civil partnership in Gibraltar, granting same sex couples many of the rights allowed under marriage, without the formal title. In the past, the Rock has trailed far behind much of the rest of the civilised western world when it comes to gay rights. It wasn’t until 2012 that the age of consent for all sexual activity, regardless of sexuality and gender was equalised at sixteen years old, having previously legally prohibited same sex couple from having sex until they were eighteen. The fight was fronted by the Equality Rights Group and took four years to champion, having faced many technicalities in parliament. Same sex couples were granted adoption and parenting rights in 2014, when civil partnerships came to fruition.
Husband & husband
The couple first set their wedding date for December 2016, in December 2015 unaware that the Marriage Amendment Bill would be approved and put in place by their set date. ‘A couple of days before our civil partnership, we got the call asking us to pop in and do all the paperwork again if we wanted to be the first ones to get married,’ Adrian gushes, ‘in the back of my mind I’d thought we could have our civil partnership here and then get married when we went to the UK. I really wanted to do it at home so I could be with my mum and my daughters and my son. Family is really important to both of us. We flew all of Aaron’s family over specifically for the ceremony. Strangely enough, I have in-laws who actually love me!’
Both followed the ERG’s prolific push for LGBT rights with friends in the midst of the campaign. ‘We knew marriage was coming, we just didn’t know when.’ With warm congratulations from the Chief Minister, Adrian explains that after having dealt with the divorce from his first marriage during his time as a lawyer, it was fitting that Mr. Picardo was now orchestrating his marriage, having been at the head of the Government’s move to pass the Bill. ‘Gibraltar, being so small, it’s natural that we know some of the members of Government. Samanatha Sacramento had warned us that marriage was coming, but she kept it quiet until the end.’
At the time of writing this, Adrian and Aaron are the first and only gay couple to be married on the Rock, with their double barrel surname and fresh certificates legally tying them together. I ask them to look back on the service and describe it to me, and both face me and utter the word ‘surreal’ at almost the same time. ‘I’m quite shy, so speaking in public doesn’t come naturally. We usually live our lives quite personally and to ourselves, but to see everyone come together and really dress up and make it that much more special for us, really made it.’ The ceremony was heavily publicised and captured in its entirety by the press, which somehow didn’t faze them. Post-wedding, the news quickly travelled globally, finding its way into the worldwide media. ‘I received calls from Australia and Spain, and we were even in Pink News. I Googled us yesterday and so many results appeared.’ The wedding celebration continued over two days. ‘We went to The Skull bar, the old Cannon Bar, and had everyone over for drinks and food after the ceremony. The main reception, held on the second day, was catered by my sister who owns Nosha’s Healthy Options. Then, we spent two nights on the Sunborn and went off on our honeymoon on the 18th.’ Adrian flew out Aaron’s best friend from home as a surprise guest. ‘It was the best kept secret for the whole thing.’ They specifically chose their friend Austin Viagas to be the registrar for the ceremony, to make the experience even more
What is love?
Having both been previously tied up in former marriages and civil partnerships; they are certainly not new to commitment and strenuous personal input that comes with ‘I do’. I probe them on why they wanted something so serious again after their unsuccessful first experiences. ‘There’s the official side,’ Adrian notes. ‘Now, he’s looked after if anything happens to me. It’s all about fairness, really. You read horrible stories about people being together for thirty years and then someone not being allowed in the room whilst their partner is dying.’ This, they both agree, is a completely different experience for them. So what would be their advice for couples considering marriage? ‘Only do it if you’re ready. We had a long time to mentally prepare for it. The most nerve-wracking part for us was changing the civil partnership papers the day before. If you’re ready, you should be in a position to know that this is what you want and you’re ready to make that lifelong commitment. You have to be sure that this one is going to be the one for the rest of your life.’ Let’s not forget the more romantic reasoning behind their commitment; ‘I’m totally in love with him. Love is waking up in the morning, looking next to you and thinking, “my God, I’m so lucky”. It’s all the little things which you take for granted and you think, “he really knows me”.’
words | Nicole Macedo photos | Ian Dignam