'It was distressing to see such open disdain for same-sex couples' | Tom Allen on My Big Gay Wedding © BBC/Minnow Films/Adam Hobbs

'It was distressing to see such open disdain for same-sex couples'

Tom Allen on My Big Gay Wedding

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first same-sex marriage in the UK, after the law was changed in 2013.  To celebrate, Tom Allen is hosting a new documentary, My Big Gay Wedding, based around him arranging a dream wedding for one couple – Adam Johnson and Dan Mackey of Brighton – and interviewing those who helped make it happen, including campaigners such as Sandi Toksvig, Peter Tatchell, Lynn Sutcliffe and Sarah Hews and politicians like Dame Angela Eagle and Lord David Cameron. Here the comedian talks about the one-off, coming to BBC One soon…

Why did you want to throw one lucky couple the wedding of their dreams?

Well firstly, I really enjoy telling people what to do!

 Any kind of high ceremony is very much my bag. I also thought it would be a great way to understand, first hand, the importance of what marriage actually is. 

Yes, weddings are ceremonies, heavy in symbolism and tradition, but they genuinely matter to people because they mean that a couple is recognised in law and that society deems them important. 

There have been times where, as a gay man, I have wondered, 'Well why do we need to be equal like this, when we can be... better?' but with something like marriage, it's a ritual that dates back thousands of years and so in being allowed to take part in it in the eyes of society and in the eyes of the law means more than just 'a wedding'. 

It's a much more profound symbol - a statement that we as gay people, are actually equal to others, worthy of relationships and deserving of the same rights as everyone else. 

In partaking in marriage we are part of the rest of the world and the history of humankind. Maybe that seems like a grand statement but for so much of history, queer people have been made to feel less than everyone else or outside of society. I think it has had a huge impact on mental health, self-esteem and our sense of self. 

So bringing same-sex marriage into law has been hugely important.

Tom signing a wedding register with a big plume pen

Why was it important to meet the trailblazers who paved the way to same sex marriage?

I’ve always loved learning about the past, no matter how recent it might be - after all, a society which doesn’t learn its history is condemned to repeat it. 

I think talking to the people who helped bring about this change was a way to publicly acknowledge what they’d done. With the activists, they often suffered a huge amount of prejudice and resistance.

 I’ve never been a fan of trite sayings and phrases like, ‘Love is Love’ or, ‘Love Wins’ because I think it's much more important to see how history is seldom a straight line but instead fraught with steps forward and steps back all at the same time. 

Meeting the people who paved the way allowed me to see how difficult it had been. Complex matters require complex solutions if the long-term goal is to be achieved and I think in our world today, we need to remember this now more than ever.

What moved me the most was how the Act which made the marriage of same sex couples lawful in England and Wales, brought people together from different sides of the political divide. Despite the opposition from various corners, MPs and activists found a pragmatic way to come together to achieve their aim. In these polarised times, it felt very hopeful. 

So maybe the saying is right actually - love does win.

What do you hope audiences take away from this documentary?

I hope it's a sense of hope about what can be achieved when people work together. I hope it's an understanding of how difficult it has been, and continues to be, for queer people to exist in the world. Beyond that, I also hope it's a sense of gratitude for how far we have come, and to not take that for granted.

How have things changed in the last ten years, and how have they not?

It was upsetting to see footage of the parliamentary debates at the time and to see how open people were about their disdain for equality for same-sex couples - I think, happily, I'd put it out of my mind how humiliating it was to have other people opine about what they thought we, as gay people, were entitled to. It was truly amazing to see how far things have come. 

However, I don't for a moment ignore how same-sex relations and just being queer at all continue to be illegal for many around the world. For them, the idea of gay marriage might feel very far removed indeed. So as a world I hope we can continue to work together to achieve equality for all.

• Interview supplied by BBC press office

Published: 21 Mar 2024

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