Following a lengthy campaign, the law finally changed on December 2 allowing opposite sex couples to enter into a civil partnership from New Year’s Eve – an option previously only open to same sex couples.
The change in legislation means opposite sex couples can celebrate their relationship and benefit from the legal rights without a marriage ceremony.
Ann “PeeWee” Chamings (70) and John Eccles (68), who have been together for 43 years, assumed that a change in law to allow same sex couples to marry would make it possible for them to enter into a civil partnership.
But there was a five year campaign and court action led by Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld before the couple from Iden could hold their small ceremony in the Mayor’s Parlour at Hastings Town Hall on New Year’s Eve, with their two adult children as witnesses.
Ann said: “I felt, even as a little girl, that marriage was not something I wanted to do. But I thought it was really unfair that, because we didn’t say the right things in front of the right people, we were deprived of all the rights of married people.
“We will now have exactly the same rights as married couples without having to go through, what I feel, is an unnecessary ceremony. We are so grateful to Charles and Rebecca who fought this battle on behalf of three million couples throughout England and Wales.”
Without marriage or a civil partnership, couples miss out on benefits including inheritance tax rules, and are not considered next of kin.
It was these benefits that led to Marc Fish and Vanessa Eley from Seaford holding a ceremony at Southover Grange on New Year’s Eve.
Vanessa said: “We have been together for more than 18 years and have two children. I was never massively anti-wedding but felt civil partnership was more up our street. I assumed it would be available to everybody.
She added: “We’ve waited a long time and, when the law eventually changed, we wanted to be one of the first.”
The couple were joined by their children, aged five and 12, family and friends to witness their civil partnership.
Tania Lindon and Mark Slater were the first in the county to enter into a civil partnership at 10.30am on New Year’s Eve at Lewes Register Office, Southover Grange.
For them, their civil partnership celebrates finally winning rights for couples who choose not to marry.
They said: “We’re delighted to have the opportunity to form a civil partnership on the very first day it’s legally possible for opposite sex couples to do so.
“While we, together, have much to celebrate, forming this civil partnership is not about the personal value we place on each other but the temporal value the taxman places on us. Our civil partnership marks the end of a journey that began with signing our wills knowing, that as a long standing couple with grown up children, we were without the same legal and financial protections enjoyed by those who were married.”
They added: “Now we have those rights too and no longer need to publicise what is personal to safeguard our financial futures.”
East Sussex has more than 100 licensed venues including castles, hotels, stately homes and barns. The details of all licensed venues in the county, as well as information about ceremonies and suppliers can be found at www.ceremoniesineastsussex.co.uk
For information on giving notice and booking a civil partnership ceremony, call 0345 60 80 198.