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Ulster gay couples are first to 'marry'


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Ten make history and tie the knot

 

By Brian Hutton

 

19 December 2005

Five gay couples in Northern Ireland were making history today as the first in the UK or Ireland to have their partnerships legally recognised.

 

Two lesbian couples and one male couple were due to "tie the gay knot" during civil partnership ceremonies in Belfast's City Hall.

 

One lesbian couple was also set to exchange vows in Antrim, at the town's civic offices, while another same-sex couple were registering their relationship in Newry.

 

Ballymena-born Grainne Close (32), and her US partner Shannon Sickels (27), were expected to be the first to hold a "gay wedding" in Belfast.

 

It was expected that the first ceremony would be in Derry, where the registration office opens earlier than Belfast, but the couple postponed because of the massive media interest.

 

Sonia Drain (35), and Pauline McConnell (38), were due to register their partnership at Antrim today. Speaking before the ceremony, Sonia said she was nervous but looking forward to it.

 

"We've known each other now for about 14 months, although we've only been going out for eight weeks," she said.

 

"We joked about getting registered at the start, but then we talked about it seriously and the two us just knew that was what we wanted.

 

"Family and friends have been fantastic. They see that we are very happy."

 

Today's ceremonies have been hailed as the most significant historical event for Northern Ireland's gay community, by leading gay rights organisation the Rainbow Project.

 

Security was stepped up at Belfast City Hall as fundamentalist Christian protesters gathered to voice their opposition to the new legal partnerships.

 

The Stop the Parade coalition - which was set up to oppose the annual gay pride festival in Belfast - has "rebranded" itself for the occasion as The Christian Reform Foundation.

 

The group's spokesman Jonathan Larner said the protest would be visible and vocal, yet lawful.

 

"I believe that civil partnerships are a sinful parody of the marriage bond and it undermines that bond by trying to make a moral equivalent with a sinful lifestyle," said Mr Larner.

 

Outside the City Hall there was a lorry carrying a large billboard picturing a heterosexual married couple approved with a huge green tick, alongside a gay couple in wedding dress with a dismissive red 'X'.

 

Free Presbyterian ministers were also planning to preach about the sanctity of marriage throughout the day.

 

The Anti-Racism Network urged supporters to come out and publicly show their backing for same-sex couples and the new legislation.

 

"This is a day for celebration for anyone committed to equality and an end to discrimination," said spokeswoman Barbara Muldoon.

 

"This is a hard won day where recognition will be given for the first time that no group in our society is entitled to monopolise love and partnership."

 

The Civil Partnership Act allows same-sex couples property and inheritance rights equal to married heterosexual couples.

 

The legislation will also entitle gay couples to the same pension, immigration and tax benefits.

 

It is only open to homosexual relationships and cannot be used as an alternative to heterosexual marriage.

 

The first ceremonies in Scotland take place tomorrow, while couples in England and Wales can register their partnerships from Wednesday

Well I think this is a great day for equality and hope it will lead to an end to prejudice some day though probably won't be soon unfortunatly.

 

I'm just wonderig what Elton John's ceremony with his partner will be like.

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