| Elton John and David Furnish wave to the crowd after the civil ceremony. (Reuters)
Windsor, Dec. 21 (Reuters): British pop star Elton John tied the knot with long-term partner David Furnish today, joining hundreds of gay couples across England taking advantage of a new law to formalise their relationships.
After a short civil ceremony, the celebrity couple emerged into the sunlight and greeted hundreds of cheering well-wishers and the world’s media, who had brought the cobbled streets of the royal town of Windsor to a standstill.
“Thank you,” a beaming John mouthed to the crowds, as he stood with his arm round Canadian-born Furnish.
Two young women rushed up to the couple and presented them with a wedding cake outside the Guildhall, the same building where heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles earlier in the year.
The normally flamboyant pair surprised some pundits by wearing traditional black morning suits. The civil partnership ceremony was a small, private affair, attended by a handful of friends and with the couple’s parents acting as witnesses.
The men were whisked away in a black Rolls-Royce escorted by police outriders, and will host 700 guests at a lavish evening party in the grounds of John’s nearby estate.
Guests are expected to include former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham and singers George Michael and Rod Stewart.
Among those offering congratulations was Prime Minister Tony Blair who said: “I wish him and David well, and all the other people exercising their rights under the civil partnerships law.
“I think it is a modern, progressive step forward for the country and I am proud we did it,” he told reporters at his monthly news conference.
Fifty-eight-year-old John said before the ceremony that it would be “the happiest day of my life”.
Other well-known figures sealing same-sex partnerships included stage actor Antony Sher and director Greg Doran, who exchanged their vows in London. In the south coast resort of Brighton, unofficial “gay capital” of England, three couples had their relationships recognised as soon as the register office opened.
The new civil partnership law gives gay couples the same property and inheritance rights as married heterosexuals and entitles them to the same pension, immigration and tax benefits. But unlike in Belgium, Spain and Canada it is not a marriage.
Wednesday is the first day same-sex couples can go through with gay “weddings” in England, two days after they began in Northern Ireland.
A handful of Christian groups denounced the new legislation there.
But there were no signs of disapproval in Windsor on Wednesday, only a giant cartoon held up by one well-wisher depicting Queen Elizabeth, whose castle overlooks the town, saying: “I thought I was the only queen in the village.”