Westminster's First Civil Partnership
Roger and Percy: First Westminster Civil Partnership
After nearly 40 years of being together, Roger Lockyer (77) and Percy Steven (66) were Westminster's first couple to have a civil partnership ceremony. The ceremony was conducted by Alison Cathcart, Westminster's Superintendent Registrar, at the Old Marylebone Town Hall, at 8am on 21st December 2005. One of the most popular boroughs in which to tie the knot, the Council had at the time 80 licensed venues where couples can get married or have civil partnerships. Westminster registered 20 couples, the highest number in England and Wales on the first day that ceremonies could take place in the two countries.
Westminster's Leila Harris met up with Roger and Percy before they took the plunge:
Only when Roger Lockyer and Percy Steven hear they are set to be the first gay couple to officially register their partnership in England and Wales does their enthusiasm suddenly show.
Nonetheless, there will be no extravagant celebrations on December 21 - the time for such festivities is long passed. They have been together for nearly 40 years, and have lived together in Westminster for 18. Two friends will witness the occasion, which will be followed by an up-market breakfast at a nice restaurant. For them, this is a milestone - not so much for their relationship, which was confirmed years ago, but for same sex couples, who are now to be fully recognised in society.
"It's time," says Percy with conviction, as he casually sips a coffee. "We pay our taxes and contribute to society and, until now, we have been excluded from qualifying for the same benefits as heterosexual couples. We feel we've always been regarded as second class.
"People have the misconception that if you are gay, you must be promiscuous. Roger and I have been together most of our lives, longer than many of our heterosexual couple friends. It is very satisfying to know that gay relationships are finally being legally recognised."
The 21st December brings an important financial change for Roger and Percy. Traditionally, when someone's spouse dies, they are exempt from paying sometimes crippling inheritance taxes - often on one half of a shared house. Until now, this was a benefit that gay couples could not enjoy.
"We know several friends who had to sell their home and move when their partner died because they were liable to pay inheritance tax. It's a relief to know that should anything happen to me Percy won't lose our home."
In 2001, they registered under Mayor Ken Livingstone's London Partnerships Register programme. Although the registration held no legal implications - unlike this step they are taking - it was their first opportunity for public recognition of their relationship.
"It was a symbolic gesture more than anything else," says Roger, "but we wanted to do it so that we had an official document of our commitment to each other."
Roger, a university historian and Percy, an actor, met over lunch arranged by a mutual friend - it was love at first sight. They soon moved in together and when Percy had to travel the country's theatres, Roger followed, becoming a veritable groupie.
Eventually, Percy left the theatre and became a lecturer in Manchester. He commuted to Roger's home in London as often as possible and, as anyone who's ever been in a long distance relationship can attest, it was not easy. At one point, their work took them to America for a short time but they eventually returned to settle in Westminster.
The rain falls miserably outside, but their home is warm and welcoming. They serve me coffee in blue and white china cups (with saucer) and my own personal pot of sugar. Their sitting room is cosy, hardwood floors creek comfortably under foot and the room décor - two green chase-lounges, a scattering of occasional chairs and a large dark-wood cabinet - make the room look like a storybook parlour.
They are as comfortably familiar with each other as any couple who have spent a happy life together. Percy gently teases Roger about his lack of hair and Roger didn't miss a beat, as he quips back with a good-natured dig at the silver that has taken over Percy's formerly black hair.
They consider themselves two of the lucky ones. Their lifestyle has been accepted everywhere they've lived, including their holiday home in Southern rural France and in America's Bible belt country.
"We are proud to live in Westminster and wouldn't dream of registering our partnership anywhere else. We are looking forward to the 21st. It is an important day for us, and for gay couples everywhere in England and Wales".
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