Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Monday, 4 July 2005 13:27 UK

Gay unions banned in wedding room

Gay German couple cut their wedding cake
Germany introduced similar equality legislation in 2001

Gay couples have been banned from holding civil partnership ceremonies in a County Antrim council's wedding room.

New legislation being introduced in December will enable same-sex civil partnership registrations in the UK.

However, such acts are to be excluded from Lisburn Borough Council's marriage suite, following a proposal by Alliance councillor Seamus Close.

Gay rights activists said the move was "discriminatory". Mr Close said it made a distinction with marriage ceremonies.

"My objection is that there's a lot of interchange of language used here," he said.

"People are already referring to same-sex marriages, which is a total and absolute contradiction of terms. A wedding is a union between a man and a woman.

"Under the Civil Partnership Act, this is same-sex registration.

"So it's to draw that distinction and it's to afford the proper dignity and distinction to a wedding as opposed to a civil partnership."

The Civil Partnership Act creates a new legal relationship, which two people of the same-sex can form by signing a document.

Wedding rings
The council says the wedding room is to be used for heterosexual couples

It provides same-sex couples with parity of treatment in a wide range of legal matters with those opposite-sex couples who enter into a civil marriage.

Mr Close explained that the motion which the council had backed proposed that same-sex civil partnership registration should "be not afforded the same recognition" as a civil marriage ceremony.

It also proposed that the council's wedding room, the Cherry Room, should not be used for such registrations.

Mr Close pointed out that they would take place in the registrar's office.

Sean Moran of the Rainbow Project in Londonderry said he agreed the language was important, as the term marriage had been used to "confuse" people.

But he added: "I still can't understand why he would feel that same gender relationships being registered, and recognised, should not be afforded the same equality as a heterosexual couple."

Wedding planner

Mr Moran said he objected to the council's move as it sent out the message that same gender relationships "should not have the same recognition" as heterosexual unions.

"Same gender couples are not looking for heterosexual marriages, it's something different. We want our relationships recognised by law to protect us and give us the rights as a couple."

Richard Jones, the Creative Director of Modern Commitments, a gay wedding planners in the UK, said the Act laid down the minimum that any council could provide.

But he said many councils had been very understanding of the gay community's needs.

"What many couples are opting to do when councils are not being very understanding and not providing any kind of ceremony - although many, many councils around the UK are happy to provide this ceremony - they are choosing to have the ceremonial part of their day somewhere else."

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