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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 10:05 GMT
Councils consider same sex 'weddings'
A holy union and blessing of a same sex couple on Plymouth Hoe
The ceremony would be open to same-sex couples
Two South West councils are considering introducing special commitment services for gay couples.

If approved, the services would also be carried out for heterosexual couples by wedding registrars in Devon and Somerset.

Councillors are being asked to adopt a ceremony for those who cannot, or choose not to, participate in a civil marriage.

The proposed ceremony would be a symbolic gesture and those taking part would not be given the same legal rights as married couples.

Cathy Bakewell, (Lib Dem) Leader of Somerset County Council
There is a need to raise the profile of this issue with the public

Cathy Bakewell, Somerset County Council

For people like Ben Clarke, who runs an Exeter gift shop, it is a major breakthrough.

He has been in a gay relationship for five years.

"We're in the 21st Century, it's long overdue for unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples to be able to register themselves as partnerships," he said.

Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat leader of Somerset County Council, said: "There is a need to raise the profile of this issue with the public.

"There are a lot of couples who have been living together for a very, very long time and think they have common law rights.

"But if they are not married they have no rights at all."

But Father John Cunningham, a Taunton parish priest, said that the councils "should leave well alone".

"Marriage is the ideal," he said.

"Anything that can be seen to be attacking marriage in any form is undermining it."

Civil partnership ceremonies are already carried out in a number of cities, including Bath.

Gay rights campaigner Andrew Lee said: "A lot of metropolitan areas are doing this - London led the way - but these are some of the first rural areas to undertake the idea which is really exciting."


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07 Oct 02 | Politics
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