After two decades as a couple, two RRS Sir David Attenborough research vessel stewards made history this month when they became the first same-sex couple to wed in British Antarctic Territory (BAT).
Eric Bourne and Stephen Carpenter married April 24 at British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island, with the 30 crew members as their guests.
“It was such an honor to be officiating Eric and Steve’s wedding,” said Captain Will Whatley, Master of RRS Sir David Attenborough and a BAT Magistrate, who performed the ceremony. “The RRS Sir David Attenborough is not only our place of work but also our home, and it is a privilege to help two integral members of our crew celebrate their special day. I am very proud of the inclusive culture within the British Antarctic Survey and across the Polar Regions.”
“We’re both very proud to be the first same-sex marriage to happen in British Antarctic Territory,” said Bourne, who has been with the BAS for three years. “BAS is such a welcoming and accepting employer, and we feel very lucky to be able to live and work in such an incredible community and place together.”
As experienced seafarers, the couple has been all over the world. When Carpenter joined the ship’s crew last year, they knew they finally had found a perfect place to marry.
“Antarctica is such an incredible place. We have been together for 20 years but now we’ve both been to Antarctica together, it felt like the perfect place for us to finally tie the knot! We’ve even had the coordinates of the wedding location engraved into our rings,” said Carpenter
Bourne and Carpenter’s marriage will be valid in the U.K., where both men are from.
Bourne is from Rochford, Essex. He studied catering and logistics before become a steward on ferries and eventually working on deep sea vessels. Carpenter was born and raised in Caerphilly, Wales. After he received his Certificate of Competency as Ship’s Cook, he worked for the Ministry of Defence.
The couple first met while working aboard Royal Fleet Auxiliary Sir Percivale before being deployed in the last Gulf war. As stewards on the RRS Sir David Attenborough – currently on its maiden voyage in Antarctica – they serve “one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world,” according to the British Antarctic Survey.
In 2016, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which commissioned the ship to be built by Cammell Laird, launched an online poll encouraging the public to help name a new polar research vessel.
While the name “Boaty McBoatface” won and made headlines, the NERC instead decided to name the vessel after Attenborough, a British broadcaster, biologist and natural historian.
Back in 2016, British Antarctic Territory marriage law was reformed to make it easier to marry there and to update paperwork for same-sex marriages.
Bourne and Carpenter’s wedding marks the second marriage between British Antarctic Survey staff since the law was reformed.
Their nuptials featured speeches by the couple’s best men – who are members of the crew – as well as telegrams and toasts. There was also live music with songs performed by the ship’s doctor.
Once the ship returns for its final call next month, celebrations will continue. A wedding reception with all the staff at Rothera Research Station, around 100 people altogether, is planned. Bourne and Carpenter are also looking forward to celebrating with family and friends in Spain later this year.
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