Percy & Roger say 'We will'. Colin & Justin say 'We won't'

Gay couples can register relationships from tomorrow. But will they?
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The Independent Online

They met in 1966 and have endured decades of prejudice. So this month, Percy and Roger will enter a civil partnership with pride

Roger Lockyer and Percy Steven have been waiting 40 years for this moment. At eight o'clock in the morning on 21 December, the pensioners (Roger is 78, Percy 66) will become one of the first gay couples in Britain to formally register their relationship as a civil partnership.

"I felt quite certain from almost the first time I met him that this was someone I wanted to live with," said Mr Lockyer. "That never wavered. Now we will be able to assert to the world that we are a proud, gay couple."

The Civil Partnership Act, which was passed in November last year, gives same-sex couples the same tax rights as heterosexual married couples. From tomorrow, gay couples will be able to tell register offices of their aim to form a civil partnership. After 15 days couples will be able to register their partnership.

Mr Lockyer and Mr Steven have lived through every stage of gay liberation. When they first began their relationship homosexuality was still illegal.

"There was always the threat of blackmail," said Mr Lockyer, a historian. "But there was a very big gay sub-culture. I didn't feel at all apprehensive. Percy and I just behaved as any other courting couple would."

They first met in 1966, introduced by a mutual friend. "Percy and I were invited to a luncheon party and got on very well. It went swimmingly from then on.

"Over the years we have had our ups and downs. He walked out on me once or twice. We have had cross words and a couple of partings but they just served to strengthen the relationship. We are extraordinarily happy."

The couple have lived together for most of their 40 years together. Mr Lockyer worked at the University of London while Mr Steven has spent his career in the theatre world.

Mr Steven said they were registering their relationship for political reasons as much as personal ones. "Up until now if you are gay you have always been a second-class citizen. We paid our tax but we were denied rights. For me, the partnership is about coming into the modern world and being given our rights.

"Maybe there is now a formal recognition. It may take away the innate or sublimated distaste for gay people that some older people still have."

But there are more practical reasons too, Mr Lockyer added. "One of us clearly will die eventually. Were there not a civil partnership register it would cause terrible problems," he said.

The ceremony will take place at Marylebone Town Hall at 8am - the earliest that couples can officially register their partnership - and will be followed by a champagne breakfast. And while they now expect media attention during the day, "in the evening we will go out for a quiet dinner," Mr Lockyer said. "Just the two of us."

They have been together for 20 years and are famous as a television couple, but Colin and Justin will not tie the knot

Television presenters and property designers Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan have been together for 20 years and plan to stay together for the rest of their lives.

They have even considered starting a family. However, there will be no civil ceremony.

"Colin and I have opted not to," said Mr Ryan, 38. "We are of the mindset that if it is not broken, don't fix it. We have a very strong and fantastic relationship. Everything is great - there is no reason to change anything."

The couple first met in a club in Glasgow. Within a year they had bought a flat together and their interest in property development began.

They now write regular newspaper columns, present the property development programme How Not to Decorate on Channel Five and have written a book of the same name.

They have already discussed adopting a child but are adamant about not registering their partnership. They will lose out on "next of kin" rights that other gay couples will now have. They will not benefit from rights to each other's pensions and will be liable for inheritance tax if one of them dies.

But Mr McAllister, 37, and Mr Ryan denied that this would be a problem. "We have wrapped our wills together and our property is in both names, so if anything happens to the other we will be taken care of," Mr McAllister said. "Neither of us wants to leave the other with any financial problems."

There is another reason for the couple deciding not to have a civil partnership. They both believe that gay couples should be able to marry in the same way as heterosexual couples.

Although the rights and responsibilities are exactly the same in a civil partnership as in a traditional marriage, some gay rights campaigners have argued that the legislation does not go far enough.

Mr Ryan said: "Civil partnerships are not the miracle that everyone thinks they are. I want everyone to have the same, whether they are gay or straight. It is great because it is a step in the right direction, but it is not the full recipe.

"It would be inelegant of me to be dismissive, but it is only a legal pairing. It is not gay marriage. Why should I be less entitled to marriage than you? It is staggeringly unfair.

"A lot of people are rejoicing - at long last it is an opportunity to say we are together - and it is wonderful, but it is not enough."

Not that this will stop them attending any civil partnership ceremonies. "We have been invited to two or three over the next few months," Mr Ryan said.

"It will be great to go and help our friends celebrate their union. Unfortunately, we haven't been invited to Elton John's. I'm thoroughly disappointed - I really admire him."

What It Means: Pension rights - and pink Cadillacs

The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 gives gay and lesbian couples similar rights to those of married couples. They will be recognised as legal partners, giving them inheritance and pension benefits.

THE CEREMONY

While couples must register at their local town hall, ceremonies can be held anywhere. Hotels, National Trust houses and even football stadiums will be hosting ceremonies. Gay wedding planners Pink Weddings will offer couples "groom and groom" models for wedding cakes, chocolate fountains and pink Cadillacs.

THE RACE TO BE FIRST

Couples can give formal notice of their intention to register their partnership from tomorrow. They can register 15 days later. The first registrations will take place at 8am on 21 December. Local authorities are racing to be first. In Brighton, three couples will sign the register a few seconds after 8am, having filled in all the forms.

THE PINK POUND

Many companies are rushing to cash in on "pink weddings". Superdrug has produced an embroidered "his and his" towel set. Travel firms are marketing gay honeymoons. Virgin Atlantic's latest weddings brochure includes the option of holding the ceremony itself in Florida and Hawaii.

THE STATS

The Government predicts that 22,000 couples will register in the first five years. This is already looking like a serious underestimate. Some gay rights campaigners predict that number in the first year alone; Stonewall believe that eventually 50 per cent of all gay and lesbian couples will have a civil partnership.

AROUND THE WORLD

Four countries currently offer gay marriage - The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada. South Africa may become the first African country to allow same-sex marriage after the country's senior court ruled last week that denying gay people the right to marry was unconstitutional.

What They Think: 'I can't bear weddings - it's a waste of a Saturday'

From tomorrow, gay couples can give notice of their intention to register a partnership, with the first registrations taking place on 21 December. The 'IoS' asked gay celebrities what they think.

Julian Clary, COMEDIAN

"No one has asked me to marry them, sadly. I am all for civil partnerships, but I do hope that there won't be a spate of silly Soho queens waltzing down the aisle a week after they've met. I would love to know how the whole divorce thing will work - you know what gay men can be like."

Michael Cashman, LABOUR MEP AND EX-EASTENDERS ACTOR

"It gives me and Paul a huge sense of security. I want him to have my pension and inherit our house without it being swallowed up by inheritance tax. We are going to hold it [the ceremony] in March. We've got our eye on two venues. It will be a high-profile bash - we will go into equality with a bang."

Rebecca Loos, TELEVISION PERSONALITY

"When two people love each other and make a commitment it should be acknowledged as a wonderful thing and legal, no matter what their sexuality may be. Many in gay relationships don't believe they need a marriage to say anything, but there are always those who want to publicly celebrate it."

Ivan Massow, BUSINESSMAN

"I know it's a serious subject and I'm glad people will be able to form partnerships, but this rush to be the most loved-up couple is just embarrassing. Some of these people are simply spreading themselves all over the gay press and beyond... almost trying to 'outmarry' each other."

Matthew Parris, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR

"I can't bear other people's weddings - it is a waste of a whole Saturday. At least the problem used to be restricted to heterosexual couples, now gays are going into it too - appalling. One of the nice things about being gay used to be that one was spared the ceremonial baggage of marriage."