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Congratulations to the United Kingdom on the arrival of marriage equality in England and Wales. Although the Same-Sex Marriage Act of 2013 officially went into effect on March 13, 2014, the first new weddings took place soon after midnight on March 29. In honor of the historic event, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had ordered the rainbow flag to be flown at Whitehall, the administrative offices of the U.K.'s central government.
In consultation with Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, Deputy Prime Minister Clegg ordered that the rainbow flag be flown atop the Cabinet Office and the Scotland Office from the afternoon of March 28 until the morning of March 30 to mark the historic arrival of marriage equality in England and Wales.
He told PinkNews that "As all the same-sex couples make their vows this weekend, they will be making history."
He added, "Finally, after years of campaigning, any couple who wants to get married can get married. Together we've made our country a place where we celebrate love equally, gay or straight--and for that reason we should all be raising a glass."
Other cabinet offices and other government facilities have also hoisted the rainbow flag to mark the occasion. For example, on March 28, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Communities Minister Baroness Stowall raised the rainbow flag outside the Department for Communities and Local Government in Westminster. At city halls in places as diverse as Islington, Brighton, and Hove the rainbow flag is also flying. Some city halls opened at midnight on March 29 to facilitate the first weddings.
Even some fierce opponents of same-sex marriage have softened their opposition as marriage equality has arrived. For example, as Andrew Brown reports in The Guardian, the Archbishop of Canterbury has signalled that the Church of England will mount no more resistance to gay marriage among churchgoers.
"I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being," the Archbishop said.
As Brown notes, "His comments mark a shift in tone, if not substance, from a letter from the bishops last month that attempted to forbid the clergy from marrying same-sex partners, and which led to a furious backlash from supporters. At least seven clergy couples are preparing to marry in defiance of their bishops, though none are known to be planning a public ceremony."
More positively, the Bishop of Buckingham has welcomed the arrival of marriage equality. In an article written for PinkNews, the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, said that allowing same-sex couples to marry enriches the public understanding of what it means to be married.
"This weekend marks a significant milestone on the way towards a more equal and just society. I welcome the good news wholeheartedly, the Bishop writes. "I am sure all Christians will too, sooner or later, because equality and justice are core Christian values."
He added, "I look forward to the day when these vows can be made in Church."
The Same-Sex Marriage Act of 2013 extended marriage equality to England and Wales. The Scottish Parliament subsequently adopted its own marriage equality legislation. Same-sex weddings in Scotland will begin in the fall.
The only major part of the U.K. without marriage equality on the horizon is Northern Ireland, whose assembly has twice rejected marriage equality bills. In order to commemorate the arrival of marriage equality in England and Wales, the Equal Marriage Northern Ireland Campaign held demonstrations in Belfast and Foyle on March 28.
John O'Doherty, chair of the Equal Marriage Northern Ireland Campaign said, "We are demonstrating today, to remind our political leaders and representatives that we do not want to be left behind in the march toward full legislative equality for LGB&/T people and their families."
On March 28, Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement welcoming marriage equality. He said that making marriage available to everyone "goes beyond individual relationships, proposals and weddings--it says something deeper too about the sort of country we are."
"This is a country with proud traditions of tolerance, respect and equal worth. With this reform we are being true to those values," he said.
"In turn," the Prime Minister added, "we are sending a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality: we are telling them that they are equal."
In a video recorded for PinkNews Labour Party leader Ed Miliband also congratulated the couples who will be marrying this weekend and said that the occasion is "an incredibly proud time for our country."
Below is a video issued by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The video below, from The Telegraph, reports on the first same-sex wedding held in London shortly after midnight on March 29, 2014. The happy couple, Peter McGraith and David Cabreza, have been together for 17 years. Speaking before his wedding, McGraith said: "We are thrilled to be getting married. It is a mark of significant social progress in the UK that the legal distinction between gay and straight relationships has been removed." In the video activist Peter Tatchell, who worked tirelessly in support of the legislation, is briefly interviewed.