Today marks the tenth anniversary of the UK’s first civil partnerships, which came into effect in 2005.
The law, introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government, allowed same-sex couples to register their unions through a system separate from marriage.
The change was rolled out at different times across the UK, meaning the first couple to enter into a civil partnership under regular circumstances were Grainne Close and Sharon Sickles of Belfast, Northern Ireland – who ten years later are still together and still pioneering for equality.
The pair are at the heart of a court case seeking to bring about same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, after the DUP blocked progress on the issue – leaving it isolated from the rest of the UK on the issue.
However, civil partnerships themselves face a more uncertain future. Following the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2014, the number of new registered partnerships has collapsed, and many existing civil partners have opted to convert.
The UK government and Scottish government have both consulted on the potential future of civil partnerships – while campaigners including Peter Tatchell continue to call for them to be opened up to heterosexual couples as a civil alternative to marriage.
Others have suggested the law be ‘grandfathered’ or phased out over time – closing off partnerships to new couples as interest naturally declines.
Read the original PinkNews article from 2005 below:
Gay couple defy Christian protesters to wed in Northern Ireland
A lesbian couple have become the first gay partners to tie the knot in a regular ceremony in Britain following the introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act. Christian protesters fail to prevent ceremony from taking place.
Earlier this month a terminally ill cancer sufferer was given special permission to wed his partner early in a ceremony held in a hospice in Sussex. Matthew Roche, 46, died on Tuesday 6th December at St Barnabas Hospice in Worthing, West Sussex, just a day his and his partner, Christopher Cramp held their partnership ceremony.
However, Grainne Close, a social worker from Belfast, and Shannon Sickels, a playwright from New York City became the first couple in the United Kingdom to marry in a regular ceremony. Northern Ireland today became the first part of the United Kingdom to stage wedding ceremonies, which will be rolled out to England and Wales on Wednesday.
The pair who met in New York four years ago invited 70 guests to witness the historic ceremony. “We just want to say that this is a very privileged position we are in this morning, and for us this is about making a choice,” explained Ms Close as she and her partner posed for a throng of photographers and television crews covering the milestone in gay equality.
Aside from the world’s press descending on their special day the couple had to contend with evangelical Christians who protested outside the venue with banners threatening Ms Close and Ms Sickels with “the vengeance of eternal fire”.
The protesters were primarily drawn up of Christians from the Rev Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church who told the couple: “do not be deceived, homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
One couple attending the ceremony were greeted with a warning from the Rev. James Dawson, a Scottish vicar: ” turn yourself away from your sinful lifestyle. You’re an abomination before God!”
In a good-natured reaction, supporters of the momentous change carried banners mocking the protesters with banners saying: “Earth is flat” and “Bring back slavery.”
Northern Ireland became the last part of the UK to legalise homosexuality in 1982.