Confetti and Champagne were much in evidence over the weekend, as hundreds rushed to be among the first same-sex couples in England and Wales to get married (Scottish couples will be able to do the same from around early 2015). As with all weddings, the ceremonies ranged from the low-key to the lavish to the outright wacky. One couple even turned their wedding into a full-scale musical, complete with a duet by the mothers of both grooms and narration from the British TV personality Stephen Fry.
The British government's own celebrations were perhaps not as lavish -- but they were no less heartfelt. Hundreds of people from the administration, Congress, non-profits and the business community joined us at the embassy to count down to midnight (UK time) on Friday, when the law took effect. The excellent Washington Gay Men's Chorus provided musical accompaniment. Back home in London, we proudly flew the Rainbow Flag over Whitehall, just yards from the iconic black door of 10 Downing Street.
Britain has had civil partnerships since 2005, but a clear majority felt that we needed full marriage equality. As of last Saturday, that's what we have. Our view is clear: Marriage is one of our society's most important institutions. By opening it to all, we strengthen that institution. We also strengthen society more generally, because, as James Madison once wrote, "Equal laws protecting equal rights" are "the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country."
Even as we celebrate the progress we are making at home, we should take a moment to remember that in many other places the picture is very different. Just 17 countries allow gay couples to marry. In stark contrast, homosexuality remains a crime in 70 nations. In seven of those, it is punishable by death. We must continue to press for the abolition of such regressive laws. Furthering equality at home, in addition to all its domestic benefits, gives us an even stronger moral platform from which to argue for fair treatment abroad.
We should also bear in mind that the road has not always been smooth in our own countries. Less than 50 years ago, it was still a crime to be gay in the UK. This June marks 60 years since the death of Alan Turing, the father of modern computing. Because of his sexuality, Turing suffered persecution -- much of it at the hands of the authorities. My own organization, the Foreign Office, banned gay people from working there until 1991.
Today, a number of organizations rank the UK as the best place in Europe to be gay. Our military is rated the second most gay-friendly in the world. Alan Turing received a Royal pardon last year, and in 2010 a Foreign Office Minister became the first serving member of the UK government to enter into a civil partnership with a partner of the same sex (the ceremony was held at the Houses of Parliament).
Here at the embassy, we're really proud of that record -- and we look forward to showing it again on Saturday, 7 June when, for the second year running, we'll have a float in the Capital Pride Parade. This year, our smiles will be a little broader, knowing that we've taken a big step toward equality.