The first couples in the UK to take part in civil partnerships made history in Belfast today.

Shannon Sickels and Grainne Close pledged their love for one another during a private ceremony at Belfast City Hall under the new civil partnership legislation. Afterwards Miss Sickels said: 'We are delighted. Here's to many more.'

Around two hours later Christopher Flanagan and Henry Kane emerged from the same building and showed off their wedding bands.

A large crowd, made up of gay rights campaigners, well-wishers and church protesters, gathered outside City Hall as the first same-sex civil ceremony got underway inside.

Protesters played gospel music and brandished banners. But they were drowned out by the cheers of gay rights campaigners, who waved rainbow flags as Miss Sickels, 27, and Miss Close, 32, were driven from the City Hall.

The Civil Partnership Act provides same-sex couples with similar legal rights to married couples. The first ceremonies in Scotland will take place tomorrow, and in England and Wales on Wednesday.