A gay couple who planned to be the first to marry in Brighton are angry with the council’s decision to launch a competition allowing same-sex couples to be the first to marry at the city’s Royal Pavilion.

James Preston and Phil Robathan claim their paperwork stipulates that they will be the first in Brighton to tie the knot.

They booked their wedding in December when the government announced that the first same-sex weddings could take place in England and Wales on Saturday 29 March.

“We’ve got paperwork saying our ceremony would be conducted at the earliest time possible,” said Mr Preston to BBC South East Today.

“The registrars were the ones making a song and dance in the office about being the first couple.

“We went down there, we booked it all, we handed over the money and we were given the paperwork.”

Yesterday, Brighton and Hove City Council announced a competition allowing the first same-sex couple to marry free of charge inside the city’s historic Royal Pavilion.

It said couples could apply to be selected for the ceremony to be held at one minute past midnight on 29 March.

“We were absolutely furious when we found out that we had been made to feel so silly,” said Mr Preston.

“They are making a mockery and circus of the whole idea of marriage, let alone ourselves.”

Councillor Leo Littman, lead councillor for city services, told the BBC that there had been a misunderstanding.

“They were never told by the registrars they would be the first couple married,” he said.

“They were told that they would get a time on 29 March but not what time that would be.

“We have been taking inquiries for well over a year for couples wanting to know when we would be able to offer same-sex marriages.

“We thought it was only fair to give consideration to all the couples who had registered their interest in being the first to get married.”

As well as the city’s first late-night wedding the council will be opening up the Royal Pavilion’s music room as a wedding venue for the first time.

The selected couple will be able to invite up to 80 guests. All other wedding costs, including accommodation, transport, catering, reception or other room hire must be met by the couple.

The council has also stipulated the couple must be willing for the media to be present at the ceremony and to appear in publicity about the historic moment.

Couples in existing civil partnerships cannot apply as the legislation to convert a civil partnership to a marriage has not yet been announced.