Couple choose Norwegian marriage over English civil partnership

15 Sep 2008

My big gay Norwegian wedding, by Brian Paddick

3th September 2008

Having tried and failed at marriage once before, I had no intention of ever doing it again.

My ex-wife Mary had been very kind to me and remains a loyal supporter to this day. The 'unreasonable behaviour' she cited in our divorce petition was me being more in love with my job than with her, rather than me being in love with another man.

And of course, fully realising I was gay meant marriage was never again going to be an option, or so I thought.

How the world has changed. I no longer have a job to be in love with, having retired from the police after 30 years.

And from January 1 next year, same-sex couples can actually get married, as opposed to entering a civil partnership, in Norway.

So, at the age of 50, I am taking the plunge again. This time it's with a man: my Norwegian boyfriend of two years, Petter Belsvik.

I was, I confess, sceptical at first. Isn't marriage what straight people do? Who should wear the white dress? Am I going to be Mrs Belsvik or is Petter going to be Mrs Paddick? When the registrar says: 'You may kiss the bride,' who kisses whom? And will I understand what's going on if it's all in Norwegian?

But gay or straight, when you meet your soulmate a wedding is the ultimate statement of your faith in each other and the enduring nature of your love.

So early in the New Year, we will become one of the first same-sex couples to benefit from this change in the law.

I was minding my own business on holiday in Ibiza when I met Petter. Inevitably, it was my last day and having spent just 24 hours together we parted with me believing I would never see him again.

But then there came divine intervention - well, not quite: it was Madonna. She was playing at Wembley Arena in London and my Norwegian holiday romance was coming to see her.

In a rash moment, I suggested he could save the cost of a hotel by staying with me. It was a gamble but it proved the most wonderful weekend I had ever spent with anyone.

But how was a long-distance relationship going to work?

Petter is an engineer who lives and works in Oslo. When we met I was working up to 18 hours a day at New Scotland Yard as Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

In a strange way, Commissioner Sir Ian Blair played Cupid, although it's perhaps best not to dwell on that image for too long. After a well-publicised disagreement over the police shooting of an innocent man at Stockwell Tube station, I was sidelined into a job that took roughly eight hours a week to perform.

It gave me lots of time for long weekends in Oslo.

A couple of years have passed since then. In that time Petter stood by me as I ran for Mayor of London on the Liberal Democrat ticket. He took two months' unpaid leave to be by my side during the campaign, such is his commitment to me.

In return, I spend a lot of time in Oslo where two Big Mac meals cost £17.20, such is my commitment to him.

Petter's a wonderful man: intelligent and witty but with a calm nature that is the perfect counterpoint to my volatility. He is very easy to love.

So who proposed to whom? I can't really remember, it was a mutual decision.

Initially we agreed that there was no reason to get married unless there were legal issues, such as inheritance.

But as we grew closer we both, independently of one another, came to believe other people should know just how committed we were.

Last time, I honestly believed, with God's help, I could make marriage to a woman work. But I was wrong.

As my ex-wife put it: 'If you were leaving me for another woman, I would never have forgiven you, but I realise there is something you need that I cannot offer.'

I have been in many relationships since then but have never felt the desire or had the necessary confidence in their longevity to consider entering a legally-binding contract, even if such a thing had been available back then.

An important part of getting married to Petter is to demonstrate that this relationship really is different. I am committing myself to the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, someone who can give me everything I need, for ever.

We are going to hold the ceremony in private because what we have to say to each other is between us and us alone. But we are not getting married in secret.

We are proud of what we are about to do and we want our friends and families to celebrate with us. And we don't mind the rest of the world knowing either.

Surely two people committing themselves to a stable relationship - who promise to love and care for one another for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, as the ancient vows go - is something most people would find difficult to condemn.

They may not be the words we are using, but the sentiment of marriage vows, whether gay or straight, civil or religious is universal.

Now, the Norwegians are very rational people. As in the UK, they had decided same-sex couples should be able to enter into civil partnerships and, as in the UK, the politicians had also decided that gay and lesbian people should have equal rights.

It then dawned on them that if same-sex couples had equal rights, there should be no legal difference between marriage and civil partnership. They rectified that anomaly, leaving Petter and me planning not just a civil partnership but a proper wedding.

First I had to get a 'Certificate Of No Impediment' from a British register office to present to the Norwegian authorities to prove that my previous marriage was dissolved.

I pottered along to see my local registrar and explained I wanted to get married to my male partner in Norway and that I needed a certificate.

'Computer says no.' Well, a civil partnership, then. 'Computer still says no.' But if I wanted to get married to my Norwegian girlfriend in Norway, you would be able to issue me with a certificate?

'Yes.' So what is the difference? 'Computer says no.'

It emerged they had never had someone wanting to marry a same-sex partner abroad.

An hour later and after a series of calls to head office, the computer said yes.

One month on and with no objections registered, it still took another half an hour to coax it into giving me my certificate.

So, paperwork in place, it was time to share the news with family and friends.

As we often do, we were having Sunday lunch with my 88-year-old mother in Sutton, South London. Now Mum is a brick, an old-fashioned one but a brick nonetheless.

She has gone through all the agonies of the negative Press coverage about me and it was with some trepidation I said: 'Mum, Petter and I are thinking about getting married.'

Her immediate and instinctive reaction was: 'Do what you like, dear, just don't involve me.' I was upset. Whatever you think of your mum, to have her blessing on your marriage is important.

Petter was sanguine. 'She doesn't mean anything negative.' And he was right.

Within weeks Mum was in Oslo, staying with us, enjoying herself immensely. She told me: 'What I meant to say was, as long as you're happy, then I am happy for you both.'

It's what any mum would have said to a straight son announcing an unexpected wedding.

We've decided to get married in the court building in Oslo (it saves any arguments over the dress) and asked if we could please get married in January, but then got a Norwegian computer saying no. Apparently you can book only four months ahead.

Grrr, do they realise how long it takes to organise wedding receptions and honeymoons and all that palaver?

Like any prospective groom and groom, we have a long to-do list. But we are determined to get married in January in Oslo and we'll take whatever slot is available, even if it's eight o'clock on a Tuesday morning.

We've booked the honeymoon and we're arranging the receptions, one over there and another one in London. We're fervently hoping we'll be legally wed by then.

Optimists? Of course we are: we're two people in love who are getting married.