Civil Partnerships – One Couple’s Place in History

Publish Date: 19/12/2011

Over 44,000 Civil partnerships have taken place in the UK since December 2005.
In a special two part story to celebrate the 6th anniversary of civil partnerships being introduced, we speak to Mike Newman and Dennis Killin who highlight the importance of this landmark legislation and share what it has meant to them.

February 4th 2006 was the happiest day of my life, when Dennis and I registered our civil partnership. It was a relationship straight out of a gay Mills and Boon, as we knew at once that we loved each other.

He moved to live with me after a few weeks; ill fortune provided us with an opportunity, as his visual impairment - forty percent vision, enough to be registered blind - and missing fingers, both of which he had lived with since birth, meant he had no paid job to leave, and he had only to give up his rented council flat. I owned my house outright, and was within three years of retirement.

I was very lucky, and knew it.

The picture was completed by the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, which made it possible for us to register our relationship in what was a marriage in all but name, with the legal advantages of marriage, though it also meant Dennis losing his right to some of the benefits he was claiming, as would have been the case in a marriage.

Making History

The staff at the Registry Office could not have been more welcoming, probably rather excited at something new for them too. The registrar on the day told Dennis she was nervous, as it was her first time at such an event; ‘You know what?’ Dennis replied, ’It’s my first time too’.

We had only lived together for nine months when I popped the question, but neither of us had any doubts. We filled the room for the ceremony with the maximum permitted forty guests, and had ten more to the meal in the biggest town centre hotel.

About a third of them were gay friends, the rest straight friends, my work colleagues, and my cousin and his wife the only family there - my parents were dead, I am an only child, and Dennis had severed all contact with his family decades ago after his parents’ acrimonious separation.

Ceremonies became legally possible from December 21 2005, but with everyone broke in January, early February became the date.

We had two friends read poems in the ceremony; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’, and Shakespeare’s sonnet - or, according to our friend, Henry Neville’s - ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day; thou art more lovely and more temperate’, played a jazz track while signing the register, and had a friend play acoustic guitar while people filed in and out.

We saved money and got many more pictures by asking friends to bring cameras. When we left the register office we learned how it must feel to be followed by paparazzi.

Then we filed across town to the statue of Harold Wilson, (a Huddersfield local) outside the train station. Though he had done nothing for it himself, the Sexual Offences Act (1967) was passed under his premiership under the leadership of Leo Abse and Antony Grey.

We explained this to our guests and a few passers-by before trooping into the hotel for lunch. Then we had open house at home until night time. It all went like a dream, as indeed it was. It was a milestone in the long battle for recognition and equality.

Pioneers and Progress

Around five years ago Mike Newman saw a letter in the Pink Paper, regretting the lack of awareness of the work of campaigners working for ’gay’ liberation, pointing out that they were ageing, and would not be with us much longer, and deserved recognition.

This prompted Mike to produce a short history of freedom for gay men in Britain since the 1950’s that will be published online by The Lesbian & Gay Foundation in February.

“As I had not long come out myself, this prompted me to act, and to contact those I could, and to record what I found out.” says Mike.

“I can verify that few gay men I have met are aware of the struggle, and the courage of those who took part in it. My notes are a small attempt to record what I found, and encourage others to take things further, before it all becomes a fading memory.

I am particularly grateful to the late Leo Abse, Alan Horsfall, Peter Tatchell, who we met, and to the late Antony Grey, whose poor health prevented a meeting, but not exchanges of emails, witty and outspoken, but with care and sympathy too.”

A special event is being organised for LGBT History Month on 23rd February at 7pm at The LGF to share these unique interviews in February.

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Check tomorrow for the next installment.