WINDSOR, England Britain s showbiz royalty Elton John and 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 got married in April, John and Furnish sealed their union with a kiss before facing hundreds of photographers and fans on the cobbled streets outside.
John, 58, and Furnish, 43, were among hundreds of same-sex couples tying the knot in England and Wales today, the first day 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 the onlookers.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking to reporters at a news conference, congratulated the couple for exercising their newfound legal right. Activists saw the 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-rights group OutRage.
The new law passed last year allows civil ceremonies that will give same-sex couples the same social security, tax, pension and inheritance rights as married couples.
Furnish, a Canadian-born filmmaker, 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.
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 $1.75 million, featuring pink champagne and lamb for 700 guests inside two giant white tents erected at John s Windsor mansion.
John, married once before to studio engineer Renate Blauel, is known for such songs as Crocodile Rock and Rocket Man. He was also a close friend of Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, and was knighted in 1998 an honor he described as the pinnacle of his decades-long career.
Furnish is best known for a documentary about the pop star called Tantrums and Tiaras. He also produced a film about U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. His latest work is titled It s a Boy Girl Thing.
Several European countries have legalized same-sex unions. In the United States, only Massachusetts allows gay marriage, while Vermont and Connecticut permit civil unions.
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