The first same-sex civil partnership will be held in the Republic of Ireland within months, it has emerged.
A new law legally recognising gay couples comes into effect on January 1, securing a range of rights over shared homes, maintenance payments and pensions.
But as parties have to give three months' notice to registrars the first ceremony is expected to be in April.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the new legal regime reflects the many forms of relationships in modern Irish society.
"Gay couples, whose relationships have not previously been given legal recognition by the State, may now formalise their relationships in the eyes of the law and society at large," he said.
"Their relationships will be legally recognised and protected. Persons in committed gay relationships who wish to share duties and responsibilities now have the choice to register their partnership and become part of a legal regime that fully protects them in the course of that partnership and, if necessary, on its termination."
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) paid tribute to Mr Ahern for his leadership, determination and principled approach to the bringing this legislation to fruition. Kieran Rose, chair, added: "With this signing, the Minister is opening up a great and wide vista of futures, opportunities, celebrations and more secure futures for lesbian and gay couples."
The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 was enacted last July, but its commencement order was signed by Mr Ahern.
The Department of Justice said while couples must give three months' notice to registrars, a court order to waive the notice period for exceptional reasons, like in the event of serious illness, can be obtained. On registration of a civil partnership, the couple will be treated in the same way as spouses under the tax and social welfare codes.
The changes required to introduce civil partnership into the tax and social welfare codes also come into effect from January 1.