The honor falls to Northern Ireland because the gap between application and the event itself is limited to 14 days, while the same waiting time is a day longer in Scotland, Wales and England (civil partnership registrations do not exist in the Republic).
There are already rumblings that church protests may be held outside the first weddings with one minister calling the civil partnerships a “perversion” and saying “God ordained Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
At the close of business on Dec. 5, four couples in Northern Ireland had formally applied to have their partnerships legally recognized, with three applying to be “married” on Dec. 19 — the first possible day.
After decades of campaigning, the new law will enable gay and lesbian couples to form civil partnerships giving them employment, pension, inheritance and life assurance rights.
Ironically, Northern Ireland was the last place in the UK to decriminalize homosexuality in 1982 after a legal case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights.
Under the law, couples who want to form a partnership must register their intentions with local councils. They will then be given advice and warned that if they wish to dissolve the relationship, they will have to take legal action.
One Belfast couple, Henry Kane and Christopher Flanagan, were among the first to register their intentions at the city hall. Flanagan said they had gone through the paperwork and discussed their choice of music and vows.
“It’s taking us seriously as being a couple,” he said. “There’s a lot of stigma about gay people being promiscuous, and it’s just showing that we’re two people together.
“We want to show our love, so we’re getting married just like a normal couple would get married,” he added.
“A lot of people won’t class it as a traditional wedding; they class it as a civil partnership”, he said, but to him and his partner it was a wedding.
Kane said that they needed the security of a legal framework to ensure property rights and that their wishes would be respected.
Sean Morrin from the Rainbow Project for gay men in Derry said it was the most “significant day that the gay community has experienced.”