BRITAIN'S FIRST MRS AND MRS; One's a Reverend, the Other a Divorced Mother of Two - and They're about to Become the First Lesbian Couple to Marry in Britain. A Step Too Far? Read This Very Moving Interview and Decide for Yourself .
Byline: NATALIE CLARKE
THE APPOINTED time for their nuptials is at the most irregular, if highly romantic, hour of midnight. As the clock strikes twelve, they will make their way into Brighton Register Office and pledge their love to one another in a civil ceremony, watched by a small group of friends and family.
During those 15 minutes or so in the town hall in Bartholomew Square, history will be made, for when the Reverend Debbie Gaston and Elaine Cook emerge into the cold winter night, they will do so as woman and wife - Mrs and Mrs Gaston.
On December 21, they will become the first gay couple in Britain to 'marry' under the new Civil Partnership Act, which becomes law in this country on December 5. Although not marriage in the strictest sense of the word, it is something like it: a civil ceremony in a register office after which they will have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.
'We feel very honoured and proud,' says Debbie, 46. 'Elaine and I have been together for 16 years and have waited a very long time for this moment. We both see it as a huge step in the right direction for equality.' Once married, Debbie and Elaine will, for example, enjoy employment and pension benefits, and recognition under intestacy rules governing what a person is legally entitled to when their partner dies. Like a husband and wife, they will have a duty to provide reasonable maintenance for their partner and any children of the family.
And if it should all go wrong, there will be a formal, court-based process for dissolution of a civil partnership, or 'divorce'.
Debbie and Elaine signed up for their 'wedding' last July when Brighton and Hove City Council launched a Pink Wedding Waiting List.
More than 260 gay couples put their names down, announcing their intention to marry when the law changed.
But although Britain is following the example of other EU countries in introducing such a law, it is bound to be controversial.
Although it falls short of an actual marriage ceremony in which vows are taken, traditionalists will be upset; it will doubtless cause offence to many and raise concerns that the Act is - as Debbie and Elaine fervently hope - a huge stride towards legitimising gay marriage.
Yet all is not as simple as it seems.
Today, Debbie and Elaine are as happy together as it is possible to be and are looking forward to their love being recognised in the eyes of the law.
Still, their union has come at some cost. It destroyed Elaine's marriage, leaving behind a heartbroken and humiliated husband.
And Elaine's daughter from that marriage, Laura, 21, has recently announced that she, too, is a lesbian.
But it would be harsh to accuse Debbie and Elaine of taking their relationship lightly. Both have a devout Christian faith which is intrinsic to their lives, and Debbie is a minister at the Metropolitan Community Church, a 'fully inclusive' denomination which welcomes gays, lesbians and transsexuals.
FOR MANY years they suffered profound agonies trying to 'get rid' of their lesbianism and resorted to drastic remedies to try to 'cure' themselves.
Ultimately, both decided they could not help themselves.
For 53-year- old Elaine, a special needs tutor originally from Salford in Lancashire, the promised 'cure' was marriage.
'I knew as I was growing up that I didn't find men attractive in that way and always felt much more comfortable around women,' she says. 'But there was nobody I could talk to about it, and I decided that if I got married it might somehow make me straight.' The daughter of a manager of a plating company, Elaine met her husband when she was 25, and within four months they were married. A few months later, Elaine was pregnant with the first of two children, a son, now aged 24. Daughter Laura followed three years later.
But marriage was not the cure she had hoped for. …