UK gay couples apply to wed, civil partnership law takes effect

Gay couples across the UK are set to form civil partnerships in the next months as the law is changed to allow same-sex marriages.

Changes to UK law will allow gay couples to register for legal status as a same-sex partnership from today, with the first ceremonies to be conducted in about a fortnight's time.

The changes to the law allow for homosexuals to gain equal rights to those of heterosexual couples. That means equal property and inheritance rights, and the same pension, immigration and tax status as conventionally married couples.

The first legally-permitted gay ceremonies will be conducted by UK councils under the Civil Partnerships Act from December 19th in Northern Ireland, with Scotland following suit the next day and England and Wales on December 21st.

Unlike gay partnerships in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada, Britain's will not hold the legal title of a marriage, as the couple will only sign exclusively civil documents, rather than exchange spoken words in a civil or religious ceremony.

Among hundreds of other gay couples intending to take rapid advantage of the law changes are singer Elton John and partner David Furnish.

In an interview with gay magazine Attitude the generally lavish John said: "We have no plans to do anything spectacular. It's just going to be done in a dignified way... The ceremony will be very private, a small family affair."

Although the law changes have been welcomed by the most, certain more vocal minorities have objected to them.

In Northern Ireland, where homosexuality was only made legal 15 years after the rest of the UK in 1982, the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), led by the colourful Ian Paisley, ran a Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign.

And according to newspaper reports certain council registrars around Britain have objected to officiating at ceremonies for same-sex couples.