An openly homosexual Darlington vicar has "tied the knot" this morning with his partner in one of the first gay "marriages" in the UK.

The Rev Christopher Wardale, and retired Northumbria University lecturer Malcolm Macourt, are exchanging vows at a civil partnership ceremony in Newcastle.

After the ceremony at Newcastle Civic Centre, Mr Wardale, 59, and Mr Macourt, 58, are to attend a blessing at St Thomas' Church, where the former Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev David Jenkins, will preach.

From there they will return to the Civic Centre's banqueting suite for a reception with friends and family.

The couple have waited 21 years for such a moment and are urging others to share their joy.

Mr Macourt, from Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, said: ''It's very important to us to do this and hope others feel they're able to do it too.

"People want to make a commitment to each other with rights and responsibilities and it's about time the state recognises and supports that.

"It's been that way when men and women get married for hundreds of years."

Mr Wardale, vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Darlington, County Durham, met Mr Macourt when he worked on South Tyneside in 1984.