Couples the length and breadth of Britain today made the first steps to cementing their relationships under the Civil Partnerships Act.

The Civil Partnership Act, which came into force today, will allow gay couples to register their relationship in a civil ceremony and receive the vast majority of the rights that straight married couples receive. However, unlike a wedding, churches and other places of worship can refuse to allow their members to hold a ceremony on their property.

From today, couples can apply for a licence to register their relationship. The first ceremonies will be held in Northern Ireland on the 19th December, Scotland on the 20th and in England and Wales on the 21st, just in time for Christmas.

Over 500 couples have already made bookings for ceremonies in Brighton alone. Across the country, the government estimate 4,500 couples will tie the knot over the next year.

The Liberal Judaism movement recently announced that it will be offering gay marriage services for Jewish and mixed faith couples from the end of this month.

However, some have argued that the Civil Partnerships Act does not bring true equality. Last month, Britain’s most senior female Judge, Lady Hale, said that gay couples should be offered full marriage rights: “if people want both the privileges and the responsibilities of marriage, I do not see why we should deny it to them.”