COUPLES made history by becoming civil partners rather than husband and wife.

Yesterday marked the first time heterosexual couples could tie the knot in a civil ceremony instead of a marriage, following a lengthy legal battle that changed UK law.

Ann “Pee-Wee” Chamings and John Eccles, who have been together for 43 years, were among the first to take advantage of it.

Ms Chamings, 70, said they were “absolutely happy” following their service at Hastings Town Hall, where they were joined by their two children and walked in to Be My Baby by The Ronettes.

She said: “It’s not that I don’t believe in marriage, I think marriage is fine for some people, but it has connotations of patriarchal and religious associations that really didn’t suit us.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won a legal bid at the Supreme Court in 2018, saying that a civil partnership felt more equal to them than a traditional marriage.

The option was previously only available to same-sex couples, but campaigners successfully argued that denying a mixed-sex couple the same right was discrimination.

The academics, who live in Hammersmith, west London, also celebrated their civil partnership yesterday.

Ms Chamings said: “This now gives us rights. We now finally have the rights that other people had – this has been common in Europe for years. Thanks to Rebecca and Charles, we’ve got those rights too.”

Civil partners will have similar rights and entitlements as married couples, such as marriage allowance tax relief, exemption from inheritance tax and joint parental responsibility for children.

Eligible for same-sex couples since 2005, the right for a civil partnership was extended after Theresa May’s government approved the change of law, which came into effect on December 2.

Couples are required to give 28 days notice to register their intent for a civil partnership so the first ceremonies were taking place across England and Wales yesterday.

Brighton registrar Sarah Donnelly and partner Pete Ransom (inset) were also among the thousands to have civil ceremonies yesterday.

Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss said: “Congratulations to all the couples. I am proud that we have helped give thousands across the country the option to have a civil partnership and celebrate their union in a way that works for them.”