Fri, Dec 23, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Elton John marks union with diamond wedding bands, rice, pink champagne

AP , WINDSOR, ENGLAND

Britain's showbiz royalty -- Sir Elton John and Canadian David Furnish -- exchanged vows and diamond wedding bands during a ceremony that capped the first week of legalized civil unions in the United Kingdom.

Opting to use the 17th century town hall where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles wed in April, John and Furnish sealed their union on Wednesday with a kiss before facing hundreds of photographers and fans packed together on the cobbled streets around Windsor's town hall.

John, 58, in a white tie and violet-tinted glasses, and Furnish, 43, were among hundreds of same-sex couples tying the knot in England and Wales on Wednesday, the first day that such ceremonies were possible. Others wed earlier this week in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

"I think it's amazing -- it's brilliant," said Tim Alcock, 43, one of dozens of onlookers.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking to reporters at a news conference, congratulated the couple for exercising their newfound legal right. Activists saw their union as a watershed moment for gay rights -- a public expression of commitment that would be impossible to ignore.

"This will give hope to millions of isolated, vulnerable, lesbian and gay people especially those living in repressive and homophobic countries," said Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the gay and lesbian human rights group OutRage.

The new law -- passed last year despite some opposition from Parliament's unelected House of Lords -- allows civil ceremonies that will give same-sex couples the same social security, tax, pension and inheritance rights as married couples.

Furnish and John have been together for 12 years. Both have said they understand the implications of their union.

"Being such a high profile couple and the fact that we decided to do it straight away does carry a certain message," John was quoted as saying by Attitude magazine.

"I'm doing this first and foremost because I want to do it for David and I want to be with David for the rest of my life, but I also want to do it to say that [the civil union law] shouldn't be something that just sits there in law. It should be embraced,'' he said.

Known for his flashy glasses, flamboyant clothes and extravagant lifestyle, the pop star chose an understated outfit and ceremony behind closed doors for his big day.

The few who attended included John's mother, Sheila, and stepfather Fred, and Furnish's parents, Gladys and Jack.

The ceremony, which took less than an hour, was conducted by registrar Clair Williams, who also presided over the union between Charles and Camilla.

One of the guests, art dealer Jay Jopling, described the union as being "like any other couple getting married."

The couple emerged to a shower of rice and the click of cameras, walking arm in arm to face the paparazzi. John lifted his hand to show off a whopping diamond ring.

They then got into a black Rolls Royce -- rolling down the windows to wave to their fans -- before heading off for a family lunch. The reception cost an estimated £1 million (US$1.75 million) and featured pink champagne and lamb for 700 guests, served inside two tents erected at John's Windsor mansion.

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