BY Steve Friess
April 05 2011 7:55 PM ET
OK, OK, I admit it. We’re those kind of gays. We’re the ones who, long before we knew we were gays of any kind, begged our parents to let us get up in the middle of the night to watch Princess Di’s fairy-tale wedding back in 1981. We can speak intelligently about why Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth I was far superior to Cate Blanchett’s, we are as intimately aware of Prince Philip’s many faux pas as of Fergie’s, and we’ve followed every report of minutae, confirmed or fictional, regarding the April 29 nuptials of commoner Kate Middleton to the future king of England.
As luck would happen, we were due in a London suburb for a far less elaborate or famous wedding, that of an old friend who chose the especially dreary month of January to tie the knot. My partner and I had promised ourselves as little boys that we’d be on the sidewalk, not on our couches, the next time the Brits staged a wedding of the century, but we could neither afford to go twice in one year nor — as we semi-seriously considered — stay abroad for four months to see Wills wed.
Still, there was an upside to going ahead of the crowds: We could serve as travel scouts for like-minded queers en route across the pond for either The Wedding or, perhaps, Queen Elizabeth II’s as-yet unscheduled Diamond Jubilee celebration next year or, of course, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Part of the thrill of going to London, it must be said, begins with the flight, and British Airways is all luxury: ample legroom, which is critical on very long flights for those of us over six feet tall, and the sort of menu — steak, fish, salads, desserts, alcohol — that hearkens back to a bygone age of aviation.
I arrived with a little bit of trepidation because as recently as 2003, when I last visited London, there was a decidedly less-than-enthusiastic welcome for gay travelers that stung and surprised me given how notoriously more accepting Europeans are supposed to be. Asking for one single, large bed for two men elicited a curious, icy stare from the attendant at a well-known international luxury chain, and a surly taxi driver seemed put out when his two male passengers held hands as we rode to the Comptons of Soho bar on Old Compton, London's equivalent of Castro Street.
Eight years on, the city of Big Ben and that hideous gigantic Ferris wheel is ready for the gays. One year after my unfortunate encounters, England began recognizing same-sex civil unions as equal to marriage, so the most famous new papas in the British Empire (and its salacious tabloids) are, of course, Elton John and David Furnish. And just a week before our arrival, a British court issued a landmark ruling that fined an innkeeper at a seaside B&B nearly $6,000 for refusing to give a male couple a double room. In that decision, the judge wrote, “It is a very clear example of how social attitudes have changed over the years for it is not so very long ago that these beliefs of the defendants would have been those accepted as normal by society at large. Now it is the other way around.”