U.K. to Allow Same-Sex Partnerships

Gay marriage is a hot button issue in the United States -- but more and more countries are allowing same-sex partnerships.

In the latest development, same sex couples in the United Kingdom will be able to register under a new civil partnership law starting Monday.

The United Kingdom is expecting some 22,000 lesbian and gay couples to use the new law allowing civil partnerships. Among them is singer Elton John, who plans to marry his long-time partner David Furnish, and singer George Michael, who will exchange vows with his partner, Kenny Goss.

Business Boom?

That means big business for wedding planners. Richard Jones is one of the planners who is cashing in on the new British law that will take effect in two weeks. His company, "Modern Commitments," already has signed up more than 100 clients.

"Some people are looking for tradition," he said. "And some people are looking to totally theme their day -- everything from winter wonderland ice palaces to favorite movies like 'Wizard of Oz.' "

Roger Lockyer and Percy Stevens have been together 40 years and plan to be first in line in London when the new law takes effect Dec. 21.

"We'll be making history," said Lockyer. "What matters surely is not the physical nature of relationship but the quality of the love."

In the United States, that view may seem largely limited to more liberal parts of the country, but Britain is by no means alone. Holland not only has gay marriage, but also gay divorce. Catholic Spain, Canada and now South Africa also allow civil partnerships.

None of those countries actually calls the civil partnerships "marriage." But all of them offer the same legal benefits, such as tax breaks, inheritance rights and visitation rights at the hospital -- the same type of benefits gay rights activists in the United States say same sex couples deserve.

Home Front

Last year, Massachusetts was the first and only state to adopt an amendment to make gay marriage legal. Other states, like Connecticut and Vermont, recognize civil unions, but many gay couples say that not being allowed to marry makes them second class citizens.

Also last year, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and made same-sex marriage legal in his city, claiming that he would not stand for discrimination of any kind.

California is about to be the stage for a battle over gay marriage's legality. Two proposed constitutional amendments, which are currently at the signature-gathering stage, would ban gay marriage and repeal the state's domestic partnership laws.