Fourteen gay couples have registered for a gay wedding ceremony in Kingston, with four of them intending to get hitched at the earliest possible date on December 21.

The new Civil Partnerships Act becomes law on December 5, allowing gay couples to officially register their relationship and giving them the same legal rights as married couples.

It means that, like heterosexuals, gay people can now benefit from a dead partner's pension and will also be exempt from inheritance tax if their partner dies.

While all local authorities are legally bound to offer the official registration of partnerships, the act does not make it compulsory to offer a wider "marriage" ceremony.

However, Kingston is one of 88 local authorities, that does, and the first couples booked in to see the registrar on December 5 can hold register signing ceremonies the customary 15 days later at Kingston Register Office in Coombe Road.

"The 21st is our day. It's history in the making," said gay rights campaigner Gino Merriano, who runs Pink Weddings, a Weybridge-based wedding-planning business.

"It's not something that should be ignored, but not all register offices in the country are taking provisional bookings and that's a problem."

Kingston's partnership ceremonies will take place in the same place as marriages and will cost around £75, regardless of sexuality.

Ted Forsyth, proper officer in charge of registry, said: "We want to get to a stage where these ceremonies are not of note, where people look at it and say what's the fuss?'."

He added: "We are trying to address discrimination and are very into diversity. We are confident the Act's introduction will go smoothly in Kingston and it's going to be a good thing."