Gay rights group OutRage! said today that the Civil Partnerships Scheme is “welcome, but flawed”. The group called for same-sex marriages.

The Civil Partnership Act that comes into force on December 5th 2005, will allow gay weddings in all but name. However, OutRage!, led by human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell said that Britain operates a “sexual apartheid” system of marriage.

Brett Lock, a spokesman for the group said: “While there is much cause for celebration as gay couples are granted the rights enjoyed by their heterosexual friends, it is not yet true equality.”

Mr Lock claimed that by operating two distinct process for straight and gay relationships the government defines gays and lesbians as “second-class citizens.”

“Imagine the outcry if the government said Jewish people could not get married but they could have a civil partnership instead. The government would be denounced as anti-Semitic.

“The ban on same-sex marriage is a form of sexual apartheid.”

OutRage! founder, Peter Peter Tatchell also argued that those in non-sexual relationships must be able to register their relationships as well as gay couples: “It is wrong to deny legal rights to two loyal friends who have a strong, supportive bond, just because they are not lovers and don’t have sex.” Ironically, this policy was supported during the parliamentary debates by a number of right wing Conservative MPs led by former minister, Edward Leigh.

However, many groups have welcomed the Civil Partnership scheme as gay marriage in all but name, recognising that the rights conferred on a gay couple will be identical to a married couple. Last week, Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah said the Civil Partnerships Act was: “a historic milestone, granting legal status and recognition to lesbian and gay partnerships.”

The first ceremonies will be offered in England and Wales on the 21st December 2005.