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Do you approve of the right of gays everywhere to have their relationship recognized?
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2017 3:45 pm 
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Austria's top court allows same-sex marriage
by Simon STURDEE
5 December 2017

VIENNA (AFP) - Austria's top court has ruled that same-sex couples can marry from 2019 at the latest, bringing the often conservative Alpine country into line with more than a dozen other European nations.

"The Constitutional Court nullified with a decision on December 4, 2017 the legal regulation that until now prevented such couples from marrying," a statement released on Tuesday said. It said however that the current rules would remain in place until December 31, 2018 unless Austria's parliament changes the law before then.

But a lesbian couple denied the right to marry who brought the case, plus four other couples who also filed a complaint, can tie the knot now, it said.

In April 2001 the Netherlands became the first country in the world to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in a civil ceremony. Not including Austria, 15 European countries have followed including Belgium, France, Britain (but not Northern Ireland), Ireland and -- since earlier this year -- Germany.

Others such as Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic only allow same-sex civil partnerships, a kind of marriage-light, as was the case in Austria until the new ruling. Many ex-Communist eastern European countries -- including Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Slovakia -- still deny homosexuals the right to marry or enter into unions.

In Austria a 2009 law allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships but stopped short of allowing them to marry. However, the new court ruling said that recent changes including allowing gay couples to adopt children meant that the two institutions were now largely identical. As a result, "the distinction between marriage and registered partnership cannot be upheld without same-sex couples being discriminated against," it said. It also ruled that civil partnerships must also be open to heterosexual couples and not just same-sex ones as at present.

Helmut Graupner, a lawyer for the two women who brought the case, said that this is the first time that a European court has lifted a ban on same-sex marriage. "Accordingly Austria is the first European country to recognise marriage equality for same-gender couples as a fundamental human right. All the other European states with marriage equality introduced it (just) the political way," he said on Facebook. "The Austrian Constitutional Court gave the most wonderful Christmas present one could imagine to loving couples," he added.

The ruling comes as Sebastian Kurz's conservative People's Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) negotiate forming a coalition government following October elections. In June, just after Austria's neighbour Germany changed the rules, both parties voted in parliament against proposals to change the law on same-sex unions.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 05, 2017 5:21 pm 
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Australian lawmaker proposes to gay partner during debate
By ROD McGUIRK
4 December 2017

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- An Australian lawmaker giving a speech on same-sex marriage proposed to his gay partner Monday during Parliament's debate on a bill that is expected to soon legalize marriage equality across the country.

Tim Wilson, a 37-year-old lawmaker in the conservative coalition government, was among the first lawmakers to join the House of Representatives debate and toward the end of his speech popped the question to his partner of seven years Ryan Bolger, who was watching from the public gallery. "In my first speech I defined our bond by the ring that sits on both of our left hands, and they are the answer to a question we cannot ask," an emotional Wilson said, referring to the first time he addressed the Parliament last year. "There's only one thing left to do: Ryan Patrick Bolger, will you marry me?" Wilson added to applause.

The 33-year-old primary school teacher responded: "yes," which was recorded in the official parliamentary record.

The House of Representatives is holding its final two-week session of the year, which is giving priority to lifting the ban on same-sex marriage ion Australia. The major parties want the legislation passed this week after a majority of Australian's endorsed change in a postal ballot last month. The Senate last week approved the bill and rejected all proposed amendments that would have increased legal protections for those who would discriminate against gay couples on religious grounds.

But several lawmakers including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull intend to persist with amendments rejected by the Senate. Turnbull, a gay marriage supporter, says he wants wedding celebrants, not just those affiliated with churches, to have the right to refuse to officiate at same-sex marriages. If the House of Representatives supported such an amendment, then the altered bill would have to return to the Senate for ratification, delaying the reform.

Turnbull told Parliament that while nothing in the bill threatened religious freedoms, he wanted more reassurances for the millions of Australians who oppose marriage equality. "We must not fail to recognize that there is sincere, heartfelt anxiety about the bill's impact on religious freedom," Turnbull said. "That is why I will support several amendments to the bill which will provide that additional reassurance in respect of their fundamental rights and freedoms," he added.

Warren Entsch, a long-term advocate of marriage equality within the conservative government, helped draft the bill and was the first to speak for it in the House on Monday. "The bill which the Senate passed is a robust bill, a whole range of religious protections are already in place," Entsch said in introducing the bill. "We have made sure that we have removed any element of discrimination in this bill while ensuring that religious freedoms are protected," he added.

Entsch said related amendments to bolster freedoms of speech and education rights could be debated in a separate bill next year and should not be sued to delay the reform. "Australians are sick of excuses and they're sick of delays," Entsch said.

A nonbinding postal survey found that 62 percent of Australian respondents wanted gay marriage to be legal. Almost 80 percent of Australia's registered voters took part in the two-month survey. Most gay marriage opponents accept that the Parliament has an overwhelming mandate to make the change. While marriage equality could become law this week, state marriage registries say they would not have the paperwork to proceed with weddings until January.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 07, 2017 6:22 pm 
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Australian Parliament votes to allow same-sex marriages
By ROD McGUIRK
7 December 2017

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia's Parliament voted Thursday to allow same-sex marriage across the nation, following a bitter debate settled by a much-criticized government survey of voters that strongly endorsed change.

The public gallery in the House of Representatives erupted with applause when the bill passed. It changes the definition of marriage from solely between a man and a woman to "a union of two people" excluding all others. The legislation passed with a majority that wasn't challenged, although four lawmakers registered their opposition. "What a day. What a day for love, for equality, for respect. Australia has done it," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Parliament.

The Senate passed the same legislation last week 43 votes to 12. The government later announced that same-sex couples will be able to apply to marry starting Saturday, with the first weddings potentially from Jan. 6.

Champagne and tears flowed in the halls of Parliament House as gay celebrities including Olympic champion swimmer Ian Thorpe and actress Magda Szubanski hugged lawmakers and ordinary folk in a party atmosphere. "What an amazing day, I'm a little bit delirious, it's extraordinary," said Szubanski, who sat in the public gallery during Thursday's daylong debate.

Thorpe thanked "our straight brothers and sisters" for strongly backing marriage equality in the two-month postal survey. "Quite literally without them voting for us, this would never have happened," Thorpe said. "It means that we've created an Australia that is more equitable, it's more fair, it's more just," he added.

Janet Rice, a minor Greens party senator, hugged and kissed her transgender wife of 31 years, Penny Whetton, after the decision. They have been allowed to remain married because Whetton is listed as male on her birth certificate. "I'm overwhelmed," Rice said. "It' been such a huge thing that we've been living with for so, so long and we've finally achieved equality."

Amendments meant to safeguard freedoms of speech and religion for gay-marriage opponents were all rejected, though those issues may be considered later. The government has appointed a panel to examine how to safeguard religious freedoms once gay marriage is a reality in Australia.

Lawmakers advocating marriage equality had argued that the national postal survey in November mandated a change of the marriage definition alone, so changing the law should not be delayed by other considerations. Gay marriage was endorsed by 62 percent of voters who responded to the postal ballot. "It is now our job as members of Parliament to pass a fair bill that does not extend or create any new discriminations," an emotional government lawmaker Warren Entsch, who helped draft the bill, told Parliament. "It is a strong bill that already strikes the right balance between equality and freedom of religion."

Most gay rights advocates believed the government should have allowed marriages years ago and saw various ideas for a public survey as a delaying tactic. The U.N. Human Rights Committee had called the ballot survey "an unnecessary and divisive public opinion poll." The current bill allows churches and religious organizations to boycott gay weddings without violating Australian anti-discrimination laws. Existing civil celebrants can also refuse to officiate at gay weddings, but celebrants registered after gay marriage becomes law would not be exempt from anti-discrimination laws.

One of the rejected amendments would have ensured Australians could speak freely about their traditional views of marriage without fear of legal action. It was proposed by Attorney-General George Brandis and supported by Turnbull, both gay marriage supporters.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was a high-profile advocate of traditional marriage, told Parliament that Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten had failed to deliver detailed protections for freedoms of speech, conscience and religion in the bill. "A promise was made by the leaders of this Parliament and the promise has not adequately been delivered on," Abbott said.

Abbott pointed to an Australian teenager who lost her job for advocating against gay marriage on social media and an Australian Catholic bishop who was taken before a state anti-discrimination tribunal over a pamphlet he published extolling traditional marriage. The complaint against the bishop was dropped. "The last thing we should want to do is to subject Australians to new forms of discrimination in place of old ones that are rightly gone," he said.

Government lawmaker Trevor Evans ruled out an Australian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court case in which a baker who refused to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple argued he was exercising artistic freedom and was exempt from Colorado anti-discrimination laws. "Let's be honest here, for a case like that to arise in Australia, it would require a gay couple who care more about activism than about the success of their own wedding, to find a business operator who cares more about religious doctrine than the commercial success of their own small business, and for both of them to commit to having a fight," Evans told Parliament. "Typical Australians would genuinely question the bona fides of the players in a case like that and the slim prospect of that occurring doesn't warrant the pages and pages of commentary and debate that have been dedicated to it," he added.

Several gay marriage opponents in Turnbull's conservative coalition have regarded marriage equality as inevitable and have welcomed an end to an issue that has long divided the government ranks. The result is a political win for Turnbull, who became prime minister after deposing Abbott in 2015 in an internal government leadership ballot. Abbott was head-butted by a gay rights advocate during the postal survey campaign in September. Kevin Rudd, a center-left Labor Party prime minister whom Abbott defeated in elections in 2013, blamed the postal ballot for an assault on his 19-year-old godson as he campaigned for marriage equality a week earlier.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 08, 2017 5:39 pm 
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Gay marriage becomes law in Australia; weddings start in January
By ROD McGUIRK
8 December 2017

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Gay marriage in Australia became a law Friday as the prime minister gained a final signature on a bill hours after it was overwhelming endorsed by Parliament, and the nation started planning weddings that can take place in a month.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull traveled to Government House where Governor-General Peter Cosgrove signed the bill into law on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, Australia's constitutional head of state. Cosgrove's signature makes gay marriage legal in Australia from Saturday, when same-sex couples who wed overseas will be recognized as married under Australian law. Couples who intend to marry must give a calendar-month notice, making gay weddings legal on Jan. 9, Turnbull said.

Neville Wills, 98, plans to marry his partner of 39 years, Ian Fenwicke, 74, next month. Some practical reasons to marry become pressing with age. Relatives have contested wills that left estates to same-sex partners, and gays and lesbians want rights to access and medical consultation when a partner is hospitalized. "The reason is to have a legal relationship that's not in any way challenged - and, of course, we love each other," Wills said. "We'll get the legal relationship straightened out in January. Call it a wedding if you like, I'm not romantic," he added.

The Attorney-General's Department on Friday published online a new form for couples to announce their intention to marry with tick-box options of male, female and "x." The form defines "x'' as "indeterminate, intersex or unspecified." While the previous document referred to a "bride" and "bridegroom," the new form adds the option of "partner."

Turnbull described Parliament voting late Thursday for gay marriage, with only four lawmakers registering their opposition, as a historic moment. "Containing my emotions to a suitable, prime ministerial level of calm is quite challenging. I am absolutely pumped. I think this is so wonderful," he said after Parliament passed the bill and the public gallery erupted with a standing ovation.

Celebrations continued late into the night in Oxford Street, the center of Sydney's gay nightlife which is in Turnbull's electorate. Turnbull has been a long-term advocate for marriage equality and is the first prime minister to attend Sydney's renowned annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which is also in his electorate.

Hours after Parliament's action, a Sydney municipal council offered free venues to host same-sex marriages. The Inner West Council is accepting bookings for same-sex marriages in its halls, community centers and parks at no charge over a 100-day period from Jan. 7. "This is an historic day in the struggle for civil rights in Australia," Mayor Darcy Byrne said. It follows the downtown Sydney municipality's decision in October to offer free venues for same-sex weddings should they become lawful.

The Australian Capital Territory government, which administers Canberra, the national capital, introduced its own same-sex marriage law in 2013 that was overturned by the High Court within a week.

ACT Attorney General Gordon Ramsay said his government would waive the 55 Australian dollar ($41) cost of wedding certificate for any of the 31 same-sex couples whose short-lived marriages were ruled invalid and want to marry again. "It's a way of being able to acknowledge the difficulties that some of those couples have been through," Ramsay told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Anne-Marie Delahunt, who married her partner Meg Clark in Canberra in 2013, said she would take up the government's offer when they marry again in February. "I think it was a touching measure from the ACT Government to say that our second marriage certificate will be free," Delahunt told ABC.

Gay marriage was endorsed by 62 percent of voters who responded to a national postal ballot by November. Most gay rights advocates believed the government should have allowed marriages years ago and saw various ideas for a public survey as a delaying tactic. The U.N. Human Rights Committee had called the ballot survey "an unnecessary and divisive public opinion poll."

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 09, 2017 6:28 pm 
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Gay couples register weddings on day one of marriage equality
9 December 2017

SYDNEY (AFP) - Same-sex couples hurried to declare plans to tie the knot on Saturday as Australia's new marriage equality law came into effect, with wedding registry offices holding special hours for the first day of legalised gay unions.

The historic bill finally legalising same-sex marriage came into effect barely 24 hours after its overwhelming passage through parliament. Couples wanting to wed under the new law can lodge a notice to marry Saturday, but will have to wait a calendar month before exchanging vows, meaning the first weddings are expected on January 9. "I put in an enquiry yesterday, didn't expect to hear back from someone so quickly and they said 'oh, we are open specially today', so we thought 'okay, let's go and do it, let's do it asap'," said Clare Jacobs, holding tight to her newly-official fiancee Valeria Ballantyne. "I thought we would just come in and sign a form and it would just be a formality, but it's actually quite emotional," added Ballantyne.

The legislation came after more than 60 percent of Australian voters backed marriage equality in a contentious three-month national postal vote. To mark the historic moment, registry offices in some parts of the country exceptionally agreed to accept new marriage applications Saturday, when normally they are only open to conduct weddings. "Instead of just doing marriages, we thought we'd open it up to the public today for anyone in our community to come in and lodge a notice of intended marriage," said Amanda Ianna, a registrar for New South Wales state, which includes Sydney. "So it's a nice day to be at work today."

Daniel Barnett and Daniel Gray-Barnett didn't decide until Saturday morning to take advantage of the special hours, but they were still the first ones to register. "We just got up and came here and signed the papers and yeah, it's a good day," Daniel Barnett said.

Gay couples who already married overseas saw their unions officially recognised from Saturday.

The final legislative step for marriage equality came Thursday when only four members of the 150-seat House of Representatives voted against gay unions. In often emotional scenes in recent weeks, several conservative politicians once staunchly opposed to gay marriage recounted how the months of national debate on the issue had led them to accept that same-sex couples deserved the same right to wed as other Australians. "It is a big Australian hug for all same-sex couples, saying we love and respect you, now go out there and get married," was how conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put it on Friday. Turnbull, a moderate who has long backed same-sex unions, spent Friday encouraging his fellow Australians to start making wedding preparations, and boasted that he'd already received several wedding invitations himself.

At least two Sydney councils promised free venues to host marriages as a gesture of solidarity with the gay and lesbian community. "This is an historic day in the struggle for civil rights in Australia," Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne said. "Council will make its facilities -- halls, community centres and parks -- available free of hire fees for 100 days for any same-sex couples wishing to get married."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 11, 2017 6:00 pm 
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Australia's first gay divorce planned under same-sex marriage laws
11 December 2017

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia is set for its first gay divorce days after a historic marriage equality law came into effect, with lawyers preparing to file papers for a woman caught in legal limbo after marrying at a foreign consulate.

Following a parliamentary vote in favour of a landmark gay marriage bill last week, couples wanting to wed were able to begin lodging their notice to marry on Saturday, while those married overseas saw their unions recognised in Australian law -- opening the way for divorce. Solicitor Maria Loukas said Monday she was preparing divorce papers for a client who married in a European country's consulate in Western Australia in 2015, but was unable to divorce after separating from her partner because she was not a resident of that nation. "For her it's been about not being able to move on with her life," Loukas told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "It's been about not being able to tidy up the end of something to be able to start fresh somewhere else," the solicitor added. "She's been held back in many ways."

Australia's historic gay marriage reforms passed Canberra's 150-seat lower House of Representatives on Thursday when all but four MPs voted in support of marriage equality. Following a decade of heated debate the bill was introduced in parliament by the conservative government after Australians last month overwhelmingly endorsed the reforms in a controversial postal vote. Nearly 80 percent of eligible voters took part in the poll, and almost 62 percent of the 12.7 million people who participated chose "yes" on their ballots. Same-sex marriage is now recognised in more than 20 countries, of which 16 are in Europe.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 18, 2017 4:39 pm 
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2 couples tie the knot in Australia's 1st same-sex weddings
By TREVOR MARSHALLSEA
17 December 2017

SYDNEY (AP) -- Two female couples tied the knot in Australia's first same-sex weddings under new legislation allowing gay marriages.

Jan. 9 had been expected to be the first possible date for same-sex weddings due to a four-week waiting period since the landmark law was passed. But the two couples were married in Sydney and Melbourne on Saturday after being granted permission to waive the notice period. Lauren Price, 31, and Amy Laker, 29, exchanged vows in Sydney because their families had to travel from Wales in the U.K. to attend what was to have been their commitment ceremony.

Amy and Elise McDonald - who coincidentally already had the same last name - were given an exemption to marry in Melbourne since their relatives also had flown in from overseas. West Australian couple Anne Sedgwick and Lyn Hawkins were due to wed on Sunday after being together for 40 years. They were given dispensation as Hawkins, 85, is in the final stages of her battle against ovarian cancer. "Anne has been very supportive through all this and marrying her, it's Anne's way of saying 'Let's finally do this,'" Hawkins told website Perth Now.

On Monday, Cas Willow, 53, and Heather Richards, 56, will marry in Melbourne. Willow is receiving treatment for breast cancer, which has spread to her brain. The couple, who have been together for 17 years, say marriage will make their last precious few weeks or days together "complete." "It means our relationship won't just be tolerated, it will be accepted," Richards said.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2018 9:47 am 
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Royal family's first gay wedding: The extraordinary story of the Queen's cousin Lord Ivar Mountbatten and the 'gorgeous beast' he's set to marry, as he is given away by his very understanding ex-wife
By Rebecca Hardy
16 June 2018

Lord Ivar Mountbatten, son of the 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven and cousin to the Queen, is in a reflective mood. He picks up a photograph taken 24 years ago on the day of his wedding to his former wife Penny, the mother of their three daughters. 'That was the best day of my life,' he says. 'I loved it.'

Two years ago, Lord Ivar created quite a stir when he confessed to having struggled with his sexuality throughout most of that 16-year marriage. Finally, he admitted he was gay after finding contentment with his new love James Coyle, whom he met in the swish Swiss ski resort of Verbier.

Later this summer, the two men will marry in the private chapel on his magnificent country estate in Devon. It will be the first ever same-sex marriage in the extended Royal Family.

For the sake of their daughters, Ella, 22, Alix, 20, and 15-year-old Luli, Lord Ivar, Penny and James, who now considers the girls to be his children, too, want the announcement to be handled with dignity. This is why we are all here in this, shall we say, rather unconventional family's Grade I listed home near the village of Uffculme in Devon.

'We really are a funny threesome,' quips Lord Ivar as he shows me into the drawing room. Penny and James both look bemused. 'Not in that way.' He roars with laughter but knows he is enormously fortunate in the way life has turned out for him and his family.

For not only is Penny, from whom he was divorced eight years ago, incredibly supportive of the union, but she is actually going to give her former husband away at the ceremony.

'It was the girls' idea,' says Penny in her first interview on this most sensitive of subjects. 'It makes me feel quite emotional. I'm really very touched.' Touched? Many women would be trashing the family pile.

Penny is the sort of attractive, sparky woman that most red-blooded males would be falling over themselves to whisk up the aisle. Isn't it, well, a little odd to be handing over the husband she once loved with all her heart to another man?

'Not at all. You and I have got on from the first ten seconds of meeting each other, haven't we?' she says to James, the man who is due to become her former husband's husband.

'What I don't think Ivar realises is how much he has changed as a man since he 'came out'. James is hugely responsible for that because he's so much fun.

'Ivar is so much more relaxed these days. He's so much kinder. He's become a great cook. I now call him Fanny Cradock. He probably wasn't even aware that by keeping his sexuality a secret it was really quite tormenting him. Now it's 'out' he's a completely different person. Everybody says they've never seen him happier.'

This impending marriage, indeed, has the full blessing of their extended family and those closest to them, including Lord Ivar's lifelong friend Prince Edward, to whose eldest child he is a godparent. The Earl and Countess of Wessex are also godparents to his two eldest daughters.

'Sophie and Edward know of our plans and are really excited for us,' says Lord Ivar. 'Sadly they can't come to the wedding. Their diaries are arranged months in advance and they're not around, but they adore James. Everyone adores him.

'All my good friends have accepted James. I basically told everyone: 'I've found somebody — it's a bloke.' They just started laughing. Then they met James and one particular mate said: 'If I was gay, I'd certainly go for him.' He lowers his voice conspiratorially as Penny and James disappear together to sort out lunch.

'Now they're both out of the room, I can say they are both so similar. James hates it when I say that, but, oh God, they're so caring and so giving.

'Growing up in Glasgow was challenging for James. He once overheard his father, who was a strict Catholic, calling him 'the queer one'. He wondered who he was referring to.

'James was once dangled by his ankles from a bridge, 40ft over the River Kelvin, by a bunch of thugs. When one of the thugs said, 'Let him go,' he assumed they were going to allow him to escape. They were actually going to drop him in the river. He's so sweet. He just thinks the best of everybody.'

He replaces the photograph of his earlier wedding, attended by Princess Margaret and Prince Edward, on the side. 'I loved Penny when we were married, as I still do very much, and I loved our family unit,' he says. 'I never thought this would happen. It's brilliant, but I never thought I'd marry a man.

'When I mentioned it to our eldest daughter, Ella, she said, 'Oh Pap, it's not a big deal. It's so normal nowadays'. Of course that generation, they're completely cool about the concept of this — maybe not so cool about their own father, which is completely understandable.' He sits forward on the sofa.

'Being completely truthful, it doesn't sit comfortably with me that I'm going out with a man,' he confides. 'I've lived my whole life as a heterosexual. So, all of a sudden, having a bloke around is unusual — even now. It's brilliant but I suppose in an ideal world I would prefer to have a wife because that has always been the norm.

We were talking with friends in Bermuda about this nature-nurture business not so long ago. I knew from the age of eight I was more attracted to men. I definitely think it's in the genes. You're either gay or you're not.'

Penny and James, an airline cabin services director, return to the room. 'Everything all right?' he asks James. The two men are clearly inordinately fond of one another. Intriguingly, it is Lord Ivar who insisted upon marriage. 'I really wanted to do it for James,' he says. 'He hasn't been married.

'For me, what's interesting is I don't need to get married because I've been there, done that and have my wonderful children; but I'm pushing it because I think it's important for him.

'James hasn't had the stable life I have.' He turns to his partner. 'I want to be able to give you that.'

James returns his smile. 'It's a very modern marriage,' says James. 'There was no proposal, just an acceptance of this great love. He cares. I care. The girls are very accepting. Three years ago [they met in March 2015] they were saying: 'Wow. Are you guys going to get married?'

'We said: 'Don't be ridiculous. It's absolutely not on the radar at all.' But gradually it has become something that makes sense. Now we've started to get a plan in place, I'm getting a lot more excited. We went to a wedding a couple of weeks ago and said: 'We're not doing that. We're not cutting cakes. We're not having a first dance.'

'We'll be pronounced partners in marriage, but the ceremony itself will be very small. It's just for the girls and close family and friends.

'Everyone else — about 120 friends — will arrive for the party afterwards. We'll have lovely food and really good music, but there won't be two men in tuxedos on a cake, white doves or anything twee or contrived like that, will there?'

Lord Ivar looks appalled at the very thought of it. 'We'll probably have cheese, instead of cake.'

Penny, who now shares her life with her partner of two years, IT consultant David Hurst, in central London, is helping James with the wedding arrangements, because, she teases, 'Ivar will just delegate, won't you darling?'

With a flourishing career as a brand ambassador, she has, she says, 'never been happier'. This is the only interview she has given since her former husband came out and she is determined to do so with absolute honesty.

'I married Ivar with a completely open heart and an open mind about sexuality. Ivar had told me he was bisexual before he proposed. I didn't have any fears about it because I loved him, and love conquers all, doesn't it?

'What I hadn't realised is how jealous I would feel down the line when he was finding men attractive and how, ultimately, that made me feel that I wasn't good enough.

'When I started feeling lonely and depressed, I dulled those feelings with alcohol and of course that made me more depressed. That was difficult for Ivar. If there were two things Ivar and I could have changed about ourselves in our marriage, I wouldn't have drunk so much and you would, perhaps, have changed your sexuality?'

Lord Ivar nods. 'Certainly, without doubt, most gay blokes my age would prefer to be heterosexual. The hassle of having to keep it a secret, the . . .' He looks truly anguished. James does too. 'First of all there's the suppression of it and disbelief. Then there's denial. Thankfully, attitudes have changed.

'I had a really happy childhood but I could never tell my parents I was gay. Where I grew up, gay men were called poofs, queers, everything derogatory under the sun.

'In 15, 20 years' time people will struggle to understand how we came to be having such conversations. People will look back and say, 'What's the big deal?' But for our generation it was.'

Penny, the daughter of a Sotheby's representative, was 27 years old and had known Lord Ivar for two months before he confessed to her about his attraction to men.

After studying to be a geologist, he told her he'd had a brief relationship with a man in Venezuela before returning to in his late-20s to run the family's huge Grade 1 listed Elizabethan country house, Moyns Park, in Steeple Bumpstead, Essex.

'I didn't want to get married and have a secret,' he explains today. 'It would be unfair to trap someone into a marriage and then tell them you're bisexual,' he says. 'I hadn't really told anybody else. It was a little secret that a lot of men had at that time. My fling in Venezuela just felt . . . how do I describe it? Right. But I sort of had to suppress those feelings, particularly in my position.

'I didn't want to go and have assignations that might cause controversy. It was the convention of our generation that you got married — to a woman.'

Penny says she was deeply touched by his confession.

'When I met Ivar he seemed so alone, so I kept inviting him to all the parties and events I was organising,' she says. 'We were in Hampshire, where I was renting a cottage, and we went for a long walk when we had a chat about the fact he thought he might be bisexual — at least he said he was attracted to men as well as women — and never thought he would get married.

'I could sense he was quite relieved sharing his secret, particularly with someone who was so receptive. Because I have lots of gay friends and cousins, I'm very open-minded about sexuality. He seemed like he'd offloaded a huge burden. It definitely made us closer from that moment onwards because he trusted me.'

Over the following months their friendship deepened. 'We first got together when Ivar invited me up for his 30th birthday party at Moyns. I stayed on afterwards to help him start his event management business and sort of never left after that.

'I guess we fell in love while organising Moyns as a business and riding horses daily around the estate — making plans.

'Then, one day, Ivar said, 'If I ask you to marry me would you say yes?' ' She said she would.

And did. Penny gestures to the photograph of that very proper wedding back in April 1994. 'I was wearing the heavy family tiara which made my hair flop forwards. I remember Princess Margaret was sticking in the pins to hold it on when we signed the register.'

Those early years of marriage were blissfully happy times: glamorous trips around the world, family holidays in Bermuda, long weekends spent with Joan Collins in the South of France.

Lord Ivar readily admits the Mountbatten name opens doors, but it comes with a responsibility too. 'I think you're always aware of that,' he says. 'I mean you can't run naked down the High Street, can you?' They left Moyns for

Bridwell when their daughter Ella was nearly two and Penny was pregnant with Alix. 'It was idyllic,' says Penny. 'Bridwell is the most wonderful family home. The girls learnt to ride their bikes on the drive and every evening we'd have plays or they'd be swimming in the pool. We used to fill this house every weekend with house parties and entertain all the time, didn't we?'

On the face of it, the Mountbattens had one of the happiest marriages in the aristocratic circles within which they mixed. But, privately, Lord Ivar was discretely exploring his sexuality.

'Penny accepted me for who I was, so perhaps I relaxed and felt I could explore that part of me as our marriage matured. Maybe what happened is, with me being so open, I'd mention it to Penny and that would make her upset.

'Perhaps, on reflection, I shouldn't have said anything but, again, I don't want ever to hide anything from anybody.'

Penny interjects: 'But I always asked for and demanded complete honesty from Ivar. Perhaps that is a self-destructive part of me, but I wanted to know. I gave him his freedom because I wanted him to be happy.'

Lord Ivar considers this. 'I was never unhappy in our marriage,' he says. 'I adored Penny — really loved her. But I always describe it as trying to get a square peg into a round hole. Deep, deep down, since her childhood, Penny hasn't valued herself very highly and couldn't accept I loved her.'

Happy as each of them is now, their regret is a palpable thing.

'Ultimately, I remember you saying I want to have someone who wants me for me, and I couldn't give you that,' says Lord Ivar.

Fifteen years after that joyous wedding day, Penny left him.

'I gave back all the chattels, all the Mountbatten jewels and left with nothing,' she says.

'There was quite a lot of judgment — 'Why has she done this?' — because hardly anyone knew about Ivar's sexuality, which was hard to swallow.

'But I was approaching 40 and thought, 'It's now or never. I'm going to stay in this marriage, where I don't feel our relationship can ever be whole, or leave.' I knew Ivar couldn't be his authentic self unless I left. We both had to take wing and be the people we needed to be.'

Today, Bridwell is on the market. Lord Ivar wants to begin his married life in a new, smaller home where each of his daughters has a bedroom, but he is able to travel at whim with James.

'As you get older you want an easier life,' he says.

'A big house can be a real burden. I think I'd have done a lot more with my life if I hadn't had to come back from South America to look after my family home, Moyns, which was vast.

'I'm a geologist by profession and would have been really happy to continue living in South America. Once Penny and I parted company I knew I didn't want to keep up the pretence. Then when I met James, I thought, 'This is exactly the route I want.' We want to grow old together.'

Meanwhile, Penny spends her time in London where she can concentrate on her new business, Penny Mountbatten London. Her career, she says, 'became my lifeline' in those first difficult years of her life apart for Lord Ivar.

'I said to James this morning, 'I don't think I've ever felt as happy as I do right now.' I've always loved Ivar wholeheartedly and he knows me better than anyone else on this planet, he often tells me how proud he is of what I've achieved.

'I'm proud too. Finally I am able to love myself and the reason this marriage is acceptable to all of us, particularly our lovely daughters, is because of the character of James, the nature of the beast — the gorgeous beast.'

Source: Daily Mail UK

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