• 10th Nov 1818

    Ellen [Empson] & I had a long confab. Told her I was often in low spirits & she owned I had some reason – my father’s managing his estate so ill & living in that quere [sic] sort of way at Weighton. I said I often wanted a companion – someone to take care of me & now she was gone there was nobody I cared about. Said she, very innocently, “Why did you let me marry?” “What could I do? You never asked me.” “That is true enough. I never asked anybody.” She seemed to feel a great deal interested about me – said I was odd but hoped I would not change.

Anne Lister and same-sex marriage

One of the hottest topics of the day in the gay community is that of same-sex marriages. Almost two hundred years earlier Anne Lister, in the two serious relationships of her adult years, firstly with Mariana Lawton and then with Ann Walker, tried to emulate, so far as was possible, the rituals performed in the heterosexual world.

Making vows to each other, exchanging rings and, most importantly, taking the sacrament at the altar together. In the early spring of 1834 Anne and her partner Ann Walker were paying a visit to friends in York. They had just become newly engaged …

‘Miss W[alker] & I are positively engaged.’ [Journal entry 27.3.1834]

On Sunday 30th March they attended the morning service at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate, York and stayed on to take the Sacrament together, thus, in Anne’s eyes, completing the rituals necessary for their marriage to be deemed valid. The little medieval church of the Holy Trinity is an oasis of calm amid the bustling streets of the city of York. Nestling quietly in its hallowed spot, the little church has slumbered its way through six centuries of history but in recent years there has been a spark of interest which adds an intriguingly romantic story to its history.

The church is becoming an icon for what is being interpreted as the site of the first lesbian marriage to be held in Britain – and for that we have to thank the journals of Anne Lister, the ‘Regency dyke’ who has been hailed as the first modern lesbian.

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