A row has broken out over the decision to open the former Scottish home of the Queen Mother to Christian weddings – but not same sex ceremonies.
The move will help pay the bills at the Castle of Mey, near John O’Groats in Caithness, but gay weddings are banned at the venue.
Only ‘Christian weddings’ performed by a minister or a priest will be allowed, the castle’s trustees have decided. Prince Charles is president of the trust that runs the castle.
The location is being billed as ‘Scotland’s latest romantic wedding venue.’
However gay rights group Outrage described the decision not to hold same sex civil ceremonies as ‘ridiculous’ given The Queen Mother’s well-known association with gay people – and claimed it appeared to be ‘illegal’ under sexual orientation discrimination.
But the Castle of Mey said its decision was not outside the law as it did not have a wedding licence – and under the legislation only Christian weddings could be held there, as ministers or priests were individually licensed to perform.
But it stressed that the trustees had decided it would not hold civil ceremonies, which include same sex partnerships, or those of a non-Christian nature.
‘If we receive an application for a civil ceremony we will not be applying for a licence, the trustees have decided,’ said a spokesman for the castle.
‘They have to be Christian weddings performed by a minister or priest.’
Outrage said The Queen Mother ‘would be spinning in her grave.’
‘This seems even more ridiculous given that The Queen Mother surrounded herself with gay people – including “Backstairs” Billy Tallon (her devoted servant),’ said David Allison spokesman for Outrage.
‘Doing this at the Queen Mother’s old residence is particularly odd. She had no problem with gay people – quite the opposite.’
The Queen opened her home at Balmoral to wedding receptions four years ago. But receptions there are confined to The Piper’s Hall and not the main castle.
The actual wedding services are held at local churches. Like Mey there is also no licence for performing wedding ceremonies at Balmoral.
But at the Castle of Mey – the only home actually ever owned by The Queen Mother – services can be held in the visitors centre and the main castle can be used for champagne and photographs. The facility fee is £1500 – plus whatever the menu and drinks cost.
The reception will be in the adjoining visitors’ centre which was opened by Prince Charles in 2007 and who stays at the castle with the Duchess of Rothesay every August.
The weddings will also have to be out of season. The venue had only just been advertised and so far there had been no bookings.
‘Brides and grooms who are looking for a romantic wedding venue with a difference can now hold their special ceremony in the Visitors Centre at The Castle and Gardens of Mey between October and April,’ says the advert on the castle’s own website.
‘The Visitor Centre is set in the grounds of the Castle and overlooks the Pentland Firth. Marriage services will be conducted by a minister or priest with seating for up to 60 guests.
‘After the service photographs can be taken of the memorable day in the Visitors Centre, the Castle or the Castle gardens, depending on the weather.
‘For those who want that extra special touch, champagne can be served to your guests in the Castle itself before heading off to a more formal wedding reception.’
In BBC’s Songs of Praise from Caithness in 2005, Prince Charles talked about how an important retreat the Castle of Mey – and the area – was for the Queen Mother. He even recounted she taught him to sing to seals on nearby rocks.
The prince named his own brand of whisky – Barrogill, the former name of the Castle of Mey – after the place.
The Queen Mother first saw what was then Barrogill Castle in 1952, while mourning the death of her husband, King George VI.
Falling for its ruined isolated charm, and hearing it was to be abandoned, she declared: ‘Never! It’s part of Scotland’s heritage. I’ll save it.’ It was the only house she ever owned herself.
Having acquired the most northerly castle on the British mainland, the Queen Mother renovated and restored it and also created beautiful walled gardens.
She also was a regular worshipper at nearby Canisbay Church of Scotland.
In 2006, Prince Charles unveiled a memorial ‘in loving memory of his grandmother who kept such a special place in her heart for this parish and who worshipped in this kirk for almost 50 years until October 2001.’
When The Queen Mother died in 2002, Lord Mackay of Clashfern told the House of Lords: ‘Finally, as has been said, her Christian faith was very evident in all her works.
It was not simply a case of words; the faith was manifest in her works. In no place was it more manifest than in the small Canisbay parish Church of Scotland near to the Castle of Mey.’
Ironically the Earl of Strathmore is marketing ‘Romantically Royal Weddings’ at his Glamis Castle in Angus.
The castle was the childhood home of the Queen Mother, and where Princess Margaret was born in 1930.
The facility fee at Glamis is from £2500 – £6000 plus VAT with other costs depending on choice of menu, wine, drinks, special floral decorations and additional details.
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