Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two Kenyan men wed in London

By GITAU wa NJENGA in London and GAKIHA WERU in Nairobi

Two Kenyan men on Saturday became the first gay couple to wed in London. Charles Ngengi, 40 and his bride, Daniel Chege Gichia, 39, became civil partners under the controversial Civil Partnership Act which came into effect in the UK in 2005 allowing couples of the same sex to have legal recognition of their relationship.

The couple tied the knot at a civil partnership ceremony at Islington Town Hall in North London at 11.30 a.m. UK time. According to the Act, a civil partnership is defined as a legal marriage between gay and lesbian couples, and any couples who enter into a civil partnership obtain the new legal status of civil partners, instead of the traditional husband and wife status.

The 30-minute ceremony witnessed by 50 guests was conducted by the registrar of marriages at Islington Council. Both Ngengi and Chege clad in matching cream suits and black shoes, arrived at Islington Council Town Hall shortly before 11 a.m. driven by a close friend in a Volvo car.

After taking the vows witnessed by two close associates, the registrar said: “It gives me great pleasure to officially pronounce you couple civil partners”. The couple kissed passionately amid deafening applause from the congregation gathered to witness the reunion.

As curious guests scrambled to have a glimpse of the newly weds’ the couple took turns to sign registration documents under the supervision of the registrar. Unlike in ordinary civil marriages, no form of religious activity is allowed to occur during the process of registering the civil partnership.

Among the guests at the controversial nuptials included Chege’s former British husband’ David Cleaves, Julius Reuben, a top Tanzanian gay model, a cross-section of the couple’s close associates mainly drawn from diverse gay and lesbian communities in London as well-wishers among Kenyan residents in London.

Conspicuously absent from the closely guarded ceremony were family members of both men. After the ceremony, the couple and their guests drove to nearby Alexandra Palace where they posed for their wedding pictures. A lavish civil partnership reception was planned at Safari Bar in North Finchley in North London.

But despite the fun and the glamour accompanying the unusual wedding’ not everyone is raising a glass to the happy couple. The marriage has raised a storm among Kenyan residents in the UK who have described it as ‘unnatural and socially unacceptable’.

Sources close to the couple told the Nation in London on Saturday that despite widespread condemnations, the couple was ‘happy and very much in love’. “Chege and Ngengi are in love, and they have decided to ‘publicly declare their love’ within the legal framework of this country,” said a source who sought anonymity.

Another Kenyan said: “It time the Kenyan community woke up to reality, some of us are gay; Kenyans have to get over it.” Last weekend, Chege, who is openly gay and well known among Kenyan migrant community in the UK, was spotted wearing an engagement ring at an upmarket London social function accompanied by Ngengi.

On July 30, the couple was photographed together for the first time in public, along with David Cleaves at Invest in Africa Build Africa – Kenyan Housing Expo held at the Holiday Inn, Regent Park in London.

Pictures of the three men dining among guests at a lavish dinner hosted by Realken International Ltd in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and the Kenya High Commission in London, which was attend by Soita Shitanda, the minister for housing, and Joseph Muchemi, Kenya High Commissioner in the UK, were posted on a popular London Kenyan website, www.misterseed.com.

Ngengi, who arrived in London from Nairobi in mid-June, had a long-distance relationship with Chege. Sources said the couple are familiar faces in many gay spots in Nairobi. Chege, an auxiliary nurse at a North London hospital, arrived in London in the mid 1990s from his rural village of Gaturi in Murang’a district.

After settling in London, he met and befriended Cleaves at a London gay bar before moving to his affluent Crouch End residence on Cardinal Way, which they renamed Gaturi Towers. Chege enjoyed a long-term openly gay relationship with Cleaves,65, a former printer and a married father of two grown-up children.

In August 2000, the couple made headlines in Kenya after a local daily newspaper published details of their intimate bizarre relationship. Pictures of Chege and Cleaves attending the 2000 Mardi Gras - Gay and Lesbian festival in London stunned Kenyans in a front page story headlined Murang’a boy and his British husband.

The couple separated four years ago but remained close. Mr Chege now lives with his partner in a one-bedroom council flat in Finsbury Park, North London. Born in Gaturi village in Murang’a Mr Chege dropped out of primary school before he could finish Standard Eight due to what he once said were financial difficulties.

Living home with only Sh5, Chege moved to Nairobi in 1989 in search of employment. With the help of a relative, he first secured a job at fruit kiosk in the city centre. In a newspaper interview in 2000, he said he had always been attracted to men and it was while in the city that he was able to find his way into Nairobi’s gay community. He left the country in 1994, first flying to Spain before moving to London where he met Cleaves. The couple visited Kenya on holiday on several times and spent some time at Chege’s home in Murang’a.

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