Today is the fifth anniversary of civil partnerships in England and Wales.

The ceremonies, which give gay couples almost all of the rights of marriage, came into effect at 8am on December 21st 2005. Three gay couples in Brighton were the first to take advantage of the new legislation.

The very first civil partnership to take place was on December 5th 2005, between a gay couple where one partner was terminally ill.

An error meant that Scotland’s first civil partnerships were held on December 20th 2005.

Since 2005, an estimated 40,000 gay couples have entered into civil partnerships. London and Brighton remain the most popular areas for the ceremonies.

Last year, the average age for gay people to have a civil partnership was 41.2 for men and 38.9 for women. For straight couples, the average age at first marriage was 32.1 years for men and 29.9 years for women.

Currently, only gay couples may have a civil partnership. They cannot marry.

However, marriage equality campaigners hope to change this and will soon launch a legal bid to open up both institutions to everyone.

The coalition government has promised to work towards giving gay couples the right to religious civil partnerships but has stopped short of supporting gay marriage.

In a message released today, equality minister Lynne Featherstone said: “As well as benefiting the couples who have registered their unions, the introduction of civil partnerships has helped make a real, positive change in the way society thinks about lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

“As a government we’re committed to building on this progress, which is why we’re currently looking at what the next steps for civil partnerships could be.”