THERE were smiles and laughter as Darlington couple Ian Bell and Ian Johnstone tied the knot on the first day that same-sex marriage became legal in England and Wales.

Mr Bell and Mr Johnstone, who have been together for ten years, were joined by 80 friends and family members for the lunchtime ceremony at Darlington register office on Saturday.

The couple became one of the first in the North East to get married under the new legislation and followed a number of midnight ceremonies for other gay and lesbian couples elsewhere in the country.

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Mr Bell, 28, said he and his husband were overwhelmed at the support they had received, adding: “Ten years ago it would never have happened - especially in Darlington, which wasn’t the most gay friendly place at the time.

“Ten years on, it’s amazing how people have come together to help us prepare for our wedding and to support gay people in general.”

The pair had planned a civil partnership ceremony for February to mark their anniversary, but were contacted by Darlington superintendent registrar Anthony Hall, who asked if they wanted to be among the first gay couples to get married on March 29.

The wedding breakfast was held in Joe’s Bar in Darlington town centre, one of the first gay-friendly bars in the town, before an evening celebration held at the Engineers Working Men’s Club, in Northgate, which was attended by hundreds of friends.

Mr Bell said: “It’s quite funny that a gay couple would have their wedding reception in a working men’s club but everyone there has been so accommodating and really nice. Everyone involved has been brilliant.”

Mr Johnstone, 35, said: “We just never thought it was going to happen, although it feels pretty real now.”

Among the guests at the ceremony was Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, who was invited by the couple to mark the town’s first same-sex marriage.

Mrs Chapman said she was honoured to attend the service and added: “They were very excited and they rightly felt terribly proud to be the first same-sex couple to get married here.

“It was a lovely ceremony and I wish them well for their lives together.”