Same-sex couples to be recognised in London

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The Independent Online

Same-sex couples will be able to have their relationship officially recognised for the first time under a scheme to be launched later this year.

The London Partnerships Register will make the Greater London Authority (GLA) the first public organisation in the country to offer recognition to same sex couples. Mr Livingstone, the Mayor of London, described it as a "step on the road to equality" yesterday.

But the announcement by the GLA that they would be hosting "gay weddings" received mixed reactions; joy from the homosexual community and outrage from conservative family pressure groups.

The London Partnerships Register, which will be launched in September, will offer same-sex couples – and heterosexual partnerships – an opportunity to have their relationship publicly recognised. The "weddings" will be held in the GLA's visitors' centre on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with up to 25 guests allowed to attend. For an £85 fee, couples will receive a certificate marking the official declaration of their relationship by registering with the GLA. They can obtain a "divorce" by writing to the register and waiting three months.

Mr Livingstone said: "Clearly we still have some way to go, but I believe that the London Partnership Register is a great start.I hope that couples who have registered with the scheme will be able to use it as additional evidence in any dispute or civil action that might arise over tenancy, pension or immigration rights."

Justin Webb, editor of the Pink Paper newspaper, said: "Ken Livingstone can expect a huge standing ovation when he takes the platform at Mardi Gras this Saturday. It is very encouraging for the whole gay community that he has taken this stand. We hope this will set an example for councils all around the country."

Dr Adrian Rogers, of the Family Focus pressure group, said: "I think the promotion of homosexuality should be completely unlawful. We are not allowed to promote it in our schools so how can we allow a local authority to promote the lifestyle?"

Mike Ross, 31, a publishing manager, and his partner, Simon Robson, 37, will be among the first to take up the opportunity to register. "Some gay relationships last a lifetime and some heterosexual marriages last only three, four years. Our love can be stronger and as committed, so why not recognise that?" Mr Ross said.

The pair, with another couple – Andrew Halliday and Kevin Devulder – will be taking part in a "Holy Union" ceremony at a London Hotel on Sunday. With their families among the 220 guests flying in from all over the world to join them, they will say the vows "I take you to be my lifelong partner, companion and friend" before exchanging rings and legally joining their names in a double-barrelled surname.

The ceremony will be performed by the Metropolitan Community Church, which has been holding same-sex "weddings" for some time. The pair are determined to sign the London Partnerships Register.

The gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said adoption of the scheme by other authorities could provide the momentum to push for parliamentary legislation. Some European countries – including Denmark and Sweden – recognise gay unions.

The Liberal Democrats have already backed proposals to allow "civil partnerships", which would give couples the same legal entitlements as marriage, and are ready to try to secure a change through a private member's Bill.