Big Gay Wedding with Tom Allen whitewashes the ongoing fight for LGBTQ rights – inews

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Early on 29 March, 2014, John Coffey stood with his partner, Bernardo Marti, in Westminster’s Mayfair Library and said “I do”. The newlyweds became one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married in England and Wales. Ten years, and many same-sex weddings later, BBC One marked the anniversary with Big Gay Wedding.

Hosted by Tom Allen, the one-off documentary was packed with camp clichés and the comedian played “fairy godmother” for Adam and Dan – a sweet, Brighton-based gay couple preparing for their nuptials. He also explored the history behind the fight for equal marriage in the UK.

Broadly, the documentary did a good job of reminding us of that marriage once felt impossible for many queer people. “When I was growing up the idea that gay people could be accepted by society, never mind get married, was as mad as a sack of chihuahuas,” said Allen. Today more than three-quarters of Britons (78 per cent) support same-sex marriage compared with well under half in February 2011. That’s a monumental shift in public opinion worthy of celebration.

There was one half of Big Gay Wedding that was incredibly compelling, affecting television. The documentary was at its best when tracing society’s changing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people through historical footage and interviews with activists. Sandi Toksvig told Allen a heartbreaking story of a gay couple she met in 1980 who were torn apart by a homophobic family after a car accident left one of them in a coma. The surviving partner was not allowed to say goodbye or attend his lover’s funeral because they were not married.

Tom Allen helped the couple organise their wedding (Photo: BBC/Minnow Films/Adam Hobbs)

The other half – in which Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Oti Mabuse and John Whaite helped Allen to organise a wedding for Adam and Dan was painfully boring. The attempt to weave these vital histories with contrived scenes of the celebs helping the couple pick their suits, decide on the flowers for their bouquets, design the cake and learn a first dance, was cringeworthy.

In a tight, hour-long film, there wasn’t enough time to get to know Adam and Dan, or to develop any real emotional investment in their wedding (not to mention the fact that most of the usual big wedding issues – date, venue, catering – had already been sorted before Allen swooped in). I found myself wondering why Big Gay Wedding based itself on the outdated and extremely heteronormative idea of the lavish, blowout wedding anyway. And what was so special about Adam and Dan anyway? Maybe it was just a coincidence that they have a combined Instagram following of more than 129,000.

Frustratingly, Big Gay Wedding tried to do too much in one hour. More interesting and illuminating moments about the administrative hurdles trans people still face to get married, or the fraught relationship between LGBTQ+ Christians and the Church of England, were cut short. Instead, we were fed tedious dance rehearsals and dull wedding cake consultations with Adam, Dan, Tom and whatever lightweight celebrity he – or the BBC – had called in. Still, good PR for Ellis-Bextor, Mabuse and Whaite, isn’t it?

Big Gay Wedding with Tom Allen, 27-03-2024, Adam, Dan, Kissing at wedding ceremony., Minnow Films, Screengrab TV still BBC
The doc spent time on Adam and Dan’s wedding at the expense of a more nuanced view of the fight for marriage equality (Photo: BBC/Minnow Films)

The time spent on the couple’s dream wedding also came at the expense of the documentary’s ability to present a more nuanced view of the fight for marriage equality. You would never know from watching this potted history that not all LGBTQ+ people saw equal marriage as a political priority. Most famously, the gay rights charity Stonewall was divided over whether to back a campaign for marriage equality.

When activist Peter Tatchell told Allen that marriage equality helped to “shift the narrative away from sex and focus on love”, there was no pause to consider how the “love is love” mantra has really been adopted by society (for better or for worse). The alarming rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes up and down the country, coupled with the re-emergence of people branding LGBTQ+ people as “groomers”, shows that we may not have solved the stigma against queer people as well as we thought.

By the end of Big Gay Wedding, the average viewer probably felt as though they’d been given a gentle, self-indulgent pat on the back: “Well done. Look how far we’ve come!” Will they know how far we still have to go? Sadly, probably not.

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