Two-hundred-seventy-three gay couples began preparing to enter civil partnerships in Ireland as a new law came on line Tuesday.

The Republic of Ireland's civil partnerships law came into force in January but a three-month waiting period pushed the first couples' nuptials back until this week.

Kieran Rose of the gay rights group Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said the ceremonies were a “very significant advance.”

“Lesbian and gay couples have been waiting for years to have their relationships recognized and protected by the state,” Rose said.

Dubliners Barry Dignam and Hugh Walsh were the first couple to celebrate a civil partnership on Tuesday.

“This change is a pretty sizeable change although it is a pity it's not full marriage,” Dignam told the Irish Times.

He went on to note that many in the gay community believe only marriage would level the playing field: “They are right as well. Anything which is not equality is not equal.”

The couple are tying the knot nearly 20 years into their relationship.

But the men are not the first to have their relationship recognized by the state. The state had granted six exceptions to the usual waiting period.

Another 267 couples have given the government notice of intention to enter the union, the Department of Social Protection said on April 1.

Ireland decriminalized gay sex in 1993.

Northern Ireland legalized civil partnerships in 2005.