Beginning today, the United Kingdom will begin allowing same-sex couples to register their intent to become civil partners. This will pave the way for them to become recognized as civil partners in about two weeks.
Here’s the best description I found for how the new law works, from the Financial Times in London. This is not gay marriage, because couples who register under the new law will not be listed as married. However, they will be able to inherit from each other, enjoy a special spousal tax exemption, benefit from each other’s insurance contributions, and have the duty to provide maintenance to each other and to their children. They will be entitled to the same benefits that employers provide to married partners. Either partner can dissolve the partnership in a procedure similar to a divorce.
Interestingly, the law does nothing to prevent platonic same-sex friends (or even acquaintances) from registering for the same benefits as sexually-linked same-sex couples.
By allowing same-sex unions, Britain joins a growing fraternity of nations: The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, and South Africa.