UK gay couples get right to combine coats of arms

JILL LAWLESS
Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s gay couples have taken a step forward — into the Middle Ages. Like blue-blooded families down the centuries, they can now have their own coats of arms.

The College of Arms, which has overseen noble titles and insignia since the 15th century, has ruled that same-sex married couples may join their heraldic symbols in the same way as heterosexual spouses.

The change follows the legalization of same-sex marriage, which took effect March 29.

Lancaster Herald Robert Noel, an officer of the college, said Friday that the change “seemed natural and logical.”

He said that for centuries when a couple married, “the custom was to divide a shield vertically down the middle and place the arms of the husband on one side and the arms of the wife on the other.” Now two men or two women can do the same.

The change is likely to affect only a small number of people. Noel said “a fraction of 1 percent” of the British population has a coat of arms. They have traditionally been awarded to the nobility and gentry, though anyone can apply to the College of Arms for their own insignia.

The college says it considers factors such as education, professional qualifications, charity work and “eminence or good standing in national or local life” when deciding whether to grant a request.

Once an application has been accepted — and on payment of a 5,250 pound ($8,850) fee — the symbols are designed by heralds with input from the bearer.

Arms often reflect an individual’s profession, interests or family history. Musician Elton John’s coat of arms, granted in 1987, includes images of a keyboard, vinyl records and a satyr playing pan pipes.

John has said he and partner David Furnish, who have been in a civil partnership since 2005, will marry privately this month. A little heraldic updating may be in order.

Furnish does not have his own coat of arms, but Noel said that if he wanted to apply, “we would be delighted to help.”

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