Page last updated at 12:19 GMT, Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Couples tie knot in 'gay capital'

Debbie and Elaine Gaston
The Rev Debbie Gaston has been with her partner Elaine for 16 years

Three same-sex couples from Brighton have made history by becoming among the first in England and Wales to tie the knot and form civil partnerships.

The couples simultaneously signed documents making their partnerships legal at the town hall at 0800 GMT.

Brighton and Hove Register Office is holding 17 "gay weddings" on Wednesday and a further 198 are due in December.

Two weeks ago a terminally ill man from Brighton was given permission to "wed" his partner a day before he died.

The ceremonies are now legal under the Civil Partnerships Act.

'Gay capital'

The event, held in the marriage room at Brighton and Hove Register Office, was witnessed by more than 300 people, including the couples' guests and local dignitaries.

The first three couples to take their vows were the Reverend Debbie Gaston and her partner of 16 years Elaine Gaston; Gino Meriano and Mike Ullett, who have been together for seven years; and Roger Lewis and his partner of 14 years, Keith Willmott-Goodall.

Mr Lewis, 57, works for Sussex Police and first met Mr Willmott-Goodall, 64, on Eastbourne seafront 14 years ago.

Gino Meriano runs the Pink Weddings Planning Agency with his partner Mr Ullett.

The first three gay couples to have civil partnership ceremonies in Brighton
Three Brighton couples signed their official documents at the same time

Ms Gaston is a priest at the Metropolitan Community Church, in Hove, and her partner, who changed her surname to Gaston, has two grown-up children from a previous marriage.

Speaking before the ceremony, Elaine Gaston said the occasion would cement their relationship.

"It says to the world this is what I want to do, this is who I am, and this is who I'm in love with."

Debbie Gaston added: "For 16 years we haven't had the opportunity to do something that all our friends and family have been able to do."

Following their civil ceremony, which included readings and the exchange of vows and rings, the couple were to have a Christian blessing at the beginning of their reception at a nearby hotel.

'Momentous occasion'

"God is so central to our lives and our relationship that we couldn't do the whole day without mentioning God and having him in it somewhere," Debbie Gaston said.

Two of the ceremonies were officiated by the superintendent registrar, Linda Holm.

She said: "This morning was an amazing experience for me and my colleagues as well as for the couples.

"I was so proud to be part of this momentous occasion and to be able to witness three couples make their partnerships official."

The first ceremonies under the act took place in Northern Ireland on 19 December, followed by Scotland the next day.

Brighton has already had more than 500 bookings for civil partnerships ceremonies for 2006.

video and audio news
Hear one couple's view on the importance of the law change

Gay 'wedding' couple in the pink
21 Dec 05 |  Southern Counties
Priest set to wed in gay marriage
24 May 05 |  Southern Counties

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