ADOPTED Mackem Marek Filipkowski has found true love on Wearside after fleeing prejudice in his home country.
The Polish 33-year-old moved to Sunderland seven years ago for work, but little did he realise it was home to his future husband.
After meeting 14 months ago via the internet, Marek and his partner Tony Clarke, who live in Barnes, are set to walk down the aisle for their civil partnership.
It is a union which would never happen in Marek’s birthplace, where being gay remains a taboo.
But moving to Sunderland has enabled him to live his life freely with Tony, who he will marry on the same day as Sunderland’s first gay pride festival on September 25.
Marek, a senior care assistant at Barnes Court Care Home, said: “Being gay is not acceptable in Poland.
“They think a man should have a wife and kids. It’s very sad.
“There are gay clubs in the bigger cities, but you couldn’t walk down the street holding hands with your partner, it wouldn’t be acceptable.”
The pair will tie the knot at the Pullman Lodge Hotel, Seaburn, and will be picked up from their home in the same horse and carriage used by Cheryl Cole for her nuptials to Ashley Cole.
Tony will be given away by friend and business partner Linda Scanlan and Marek’s friend Michal Zdziarski will be best man.
The 47-year-old, who runs Tony Clarke Funeral Services, said: “We visited Poland together and everything had to be low-key.
“The country is maybe 10 years behind this country in terms of gay rights.
“As a gay man you couldn’t live your life over there as you can here.
“We certainly wouldn’t be allowed to marry there. And if we went back to live there our marriage wouldn’t be recognised.”
He added: “I have been out since I was young and I’ve noticed a big change in Sunderland. People are a lot more acceptable now and there is a thriving gay-friendly pub and club scene on a Tuesday night.
“When we went to the registry office in Sunderland. It’s amazing to see how many civil partnerships there are. When we found out about Sunderland Pride we thought it would be a great idea to get married on the same day.”
Thousands are expected to attend the city’s first gay pride event – a celebration of the city’s lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community.
A parade will begin at the civic centre at noon before entertainment from headline act, former Eurovision stars, Scooch.