Gay rights campaigners descended on Lisburn City Council offices on Wednesday to protest on their ban on civil partnership ceremonies.

Local authorities are forced to offer civil partnership registrations under the Civil Partnership Act that comes into effect in December of this year. However, they are free to decide whether to offer facilities for ceremonies on their properties.

Previously, Bromley council in London performed a u-turn under pressure from the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone who vowed to take the council to court if they didn’t allow gay couples to hold their ceremonies on their property.

In Lisburn, the local authority has denied gay couples the right to hold their ceremonies in their wedding hall, the Cherry Room.

Robert Toner, one of the protestors, had written to Stephen Malcolm, Lisburn’s equality officer to complain that the council has failed to comply with their own equality scheme and the Northern Ireland Act (1998) which forces local authorities to promote equality of opportunity.

Mr Toner told the media, “All people should have equal rights and same sex couples, when they come to Lisburn, should be treated the same as heterosexual couples.

“The present policy of the council has resulted in their failure to promote equality of opportunity for members of the gay community.”

The council acknowledges that it has received a number of complaints about its conduct. In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesperson said, “An equality impact assessment is currently being undertaken regarding the decision taken on the use of the Cherry Room. As part of this impact assessment general consultation will be sought and interested parties will have the opportunity to provide feedback to the council regarding this issue. The council will undertake to fulfil all its legal obligations under the Civil Partnership Act, which will come into force in December 2005.”

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