The Australian federal government has opted not to quash laws allowing legally-binding civil union ceremonies for gay couples in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

After discussions, the government agreed that the ceremonies could remain, although some minor changes have been made. The legislation was passed earlier this month.

Gay couples will now have to register their intention to have a civil union ceremony. The changes will be made when the ACT Legislature Assembly next sits but those who tie the knot in the meantime will not be affected.

Attorney-general Robert McClelland’s office said: “The discussions between the Australian government and the ACT government about the Civil Partnerships Act were conducted in good faith, and the matter has been resolved satisfactorily.”

Gay rights advocates have cautiously welcomed the concession, but say they are concerned that the proposed amendments will not be legally binding and that the ACT’s gay community has not been consulted.

Australian Coalition for Equality spokesperson, Corey Irlam, said: “The critical difference between the ceremonies originally sought by the ACT and those allowed by the federal government is that the latter have little legal effect, leaving the formal declaration of a civil partnership in the hands of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and not in the hands of civil partnership celebrants.

“It is step forward that Prime Minister [Kevin] Rudd has backed off from a veto, but the system the ACT government has now accepted is still essentially a paper process without ‘legally-binding’ ceremonies.”

Irlam reaffirmed gay groups’ commitment to gay marriage.

“Regardless of whether a civil partnership ceremony is legislative or binding, full legal equality for same-sex couples will only come when marriage equality is achieved.” he said.

On Tuesday, Warren McGaw and Chris Rumble became the first Australian gay couple to have their civil partnership ceremony legally recognised.

The pair, who have been together for nearly 20 years, held their ceremony at the Old Parliament House rose gardens in Canberra.