Irish justice minister Dermot Ahern has signed a commencement order to bring civil partnerships into law.

The ceremonies become legal on January 1st but as couples have to give three months’ notice, the first civil partnerships will not take place until April 1st.

Straight couples must give three months’ notice to get married.

However, some civil partnership ceremonies may be carried out before April, in cases where one partner is terminally ill.

Mr Ahern signed the commencement order at a ceremony yesterday.

He also signed orders which will automatically recognise a wide range of foreign same-sex civil marriages and civil partnerships as Irish civil partnerships.

Same-sex couples who are already married or are civil partners through these recognised foreign relationships will be deemed civil partners in Ireland from early January.

Kieran Rose, chair of gay group Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said: “With this signing, the minister is opening up a great and wide vista of futures, opportunities, celebrations and more secure futures for lesbian and gay couples”.

In August, up to 3,000 people protested in Dublin to call for gay marriage, instead of civil partnerships.