Dozens of lesbian and gay couples have been registering their partnerships in Germany today. Germany has joined half a dozen European countries which now recognise same-sex relationships.

The new law, which came into effect today, means they will have the same inheritance and tenant rights as married couples, and can share a health insurance policy. Foreign partners married to a German will also be eligible for a permanent residence permit. But tax, pension and social welfare rules will not treat them as a couple.

The first same-sex couple in the country to tie the knot were two men in Hanover, Heinz Harre and Reinhard Lueschow, who solemnised their partnership in the town hall at 8:20am. Hanover city mayor, Herbert Schmalstieg, attended the ceremony and expressed his happiness that such ceremonies were now possible.

The "marriage-like" status for gay couples survived a legal challenge by the states of Bavaria and Saxony, and was given the green light last month. The German Constitutional Court rejected assertions from the two Christian Union-led states that it undermined the family and altered its legal basis.

Homosexuality was outlawed in Germany until 1969, but has won broad acceptance since Berlin's new Social Democrat mayor, Klaus Wowereit, declared himself gay shortly before taking office in June. Wowereit sent an open letter of congratulations to those Berliners who registered their relationships today.

Germany now joins countries such as Australia, France, Sweden, Norway, Hungary and Brazil in permitting recognised "domestic partnerships" among gay couples. The Netherlands has put homosexual and heterosexual marriages on equal legal footing.