THERE was a strong scent of perfume in the air, but it seemed like any other wedding as friends and family gathered in Darlington's Register Office.

The wedding photographer, sitting with his tripod at the back of the room, whispered, "we're making history today" as the sense of anticipation mounted.

We stood to welcome a graceful bride in a long silky dress. But as Jay Chilton, 44, swept into the room, she had another woman on her arm - her partner of five years, Judy Thompson, 52.

As the couple, of Geneva Road, Darlington, took their seats, superintendent registrar Dawn Whitear, welcomed friends and family with these key words: "Judy and Jay are about to become united with one another in accordance with the law."

In September, the pair exchanged vows and rings in a grand commitment ceremony at the St George Hotel at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

They knew the law was changing but could not wait - and yesterday their commitment became legal, allowing the couple to share the same rights as any married couple.

Addressing the women, Miss Whitear spoke of the mutual respect, friendship, honesty, patience and humour they would need to share throughout their lives.

"This demands courage to be open to grow and change and to sort out together the events of everyday life," she said.

"I call upon those persons here present to witness that I, Judy Thompson, take you Jay Chilton, to be my partner for life," said Judy, grinning.

"Let the world recognise the unity of your partnership together and may you live full and rich lives," declared Miss Whitear as the pair kissed and the assembly cheered and clapped.

Handing out tissues, tearful friends whispered to one another, "that was really meaningful" and "those words were beautiful".

Jay's mother, Maureen Chilton, said: "It was very nice and I am pleased because they are very committed."

Judy said: "This will be a lovely anniversary, just before Christmas."