21 December - First day for gay marriages

Same-sex couples can for the first time tell register offices that they want a civil partnership.The first ceremonies are expected to take place on December 21.Between 800 and 1,000 couples are expected to register on the first day. Westminster already has 20 ceremonies booked for December 21.

One of the busiest districts may be on the South Coast, where Brighton and Hove City Council says it already has 510 provisional bookings.To cope with the demand, the Register Office is expanding and, in addition to the city's town halls, there are 23 other venues where couples can hold their ceremonies, including the Royal Pavilion, Brighton Pier and the Sea Life Centre.

Gay marriage is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada. Britain has not gone that far, but the civil partnership will be marriage in all but name, granting legal rights virtually identical to those enjoyed by married couples.The Civil Partnership Act, which won Royal Assent last November, allows same-sex couples to sign an official document in front of the Registrar and two witnesses.

Registration will only be available to homosexuals and not as an alternative to heterosexual marriage. The Act does not use the term "gay marriage" and, in order to dissolve the agreement, partners will have to undergo a form of "divorce".

Sir Elton John and his long-term partner David Furnish are among couples who have already voiced their intention to tie the knot under the new same-sex marriage laws.Department of Trade and Industry officials estimate there will be more than 42,000 civil partnerships by 2050, reports the AP. I.L.

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