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BELFAST: Sparks fly as Ulster gay couples tie knot

BELFAST: Sparks fly as Ulster gay couples tie knot
Clashes at first same-sex unions

By Brian Hutton
Belfast Telegraph


Protestors and supporters clashed yesterday in Belfast during the first same-sex civil partnership ceremony in the UK or Ireland.

Grainne Close (32), from Ahoghill near Ballymena and her US partner Shannon Sickels (27) were the first of three gay couples who exchanged vows in Belfast's City Hall.

Rival groups of Christian fundamentalists and well-wishers jostled with each other with angry exchanges breaking out sporadically.

The factions competed for volume with cheers and jeers as a black taxi carrying the newly registered couple made its way through the gates of City Hall at about 11am.

Veteran civil rights campaigner and friend of the couple Eamonn McCann was at the ceremony.

"It was a very joyous and heart-warming ceremony," he said.

Like everyone else I hope they go on to have a long life of happiness."

About two hours hour later Christopher Flanagan and Henry Kane emerged from the same building and showed off their wedding bands to the large media turnout.

Another lesbian couple also "tied the gay knot" at City Hall yesterday.

One lesbian couple exchanged vows in Antrim, at the town's civic offices, while another same-sex couple were registering their relationship in Newry.

It was expected that the first ceremony would be in Derry, where the registration office opens earlier than Belfast, but the couple postponed because of the massive media interest.

Preaching outside City Hall was the Rev Ian Brown of the Free Presbyterian Church.

He condemned the new legislation as the promotion of a "perverse lifestyle ... that God gives no authority or licence to".

He said: "We want to preserve the sanctity and uniqueness of marriage as instituted by God.

"We want to defend our children against sodomite propaganda that is obviously very rife in our society today."

The Civil Partnership Act allows same-sex couples property and inheritance rights equal to married heterosexual couples.

It is only open to homosexual relationships and cannot be used as an alternative to heterosexual marriage.

The first ceremonies in Scotland take place today, while couples in England and Wales can register their partnerships from tomorrow.


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