In December 2005, Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close became the first gay couple to exchange vows at a civil ceremony in the UK. As they left City Hall in Belfast, Ms Sickles said she was ‘delighted’ and hoped that there would be ‘many more’ civil partnership ceremonies.
Today, almost seven years later, the popularity of civil partnerships has far exceeded official expectations with five times as many couples making the commitment than forecast. Figures published on Tuesday by the ONS show a 6% increase in civil partnerships in 2011 in England and Wales, or 6,795 ceremonies. The total number of civil partnerships now stands at 106,834, outstripping the estimates that between 11,000 and 22,000 would commit in the first five years.
The figures reveal that in this five year period a greater number of men than women formed civil partnerships; this figure evens out after 2009. The average age of a man entering into a civil partnership is 40 and the average age for a woman is 38.
Stonewall’s Andy Wasley said of the figures:
‘We’re delighted that civil partnerships have proved to be so popular, both with same-sex couples and in wider society. YouGov polling for Stonewall shows four in five people across Britain support civil partnerships, and seven in 10 support equal marriage. This modest step towards full equality needn’t take much parliamentary time. It’s time for the government to get on with it.’
The ONS figures also show that the number of civil partnership dissolutions has increased by 29% in the last year. Sarah Higgins, Partner and head of the Family group at Charles Russell LLP explains:
‘An increase in 2011 in both the number of civil partnerships and civil partnership dissolutions is evident from the ONS statistics published this morning… a 6% increase in partnerships and a 29 % increase in dissolutions over the previous year (divorce figures by way of comparison for 2010 shows only a 5 % increase).’
‘If the increase in dissolutions is statistically significant, it could be that as civil partnerships were only available from December 2005, and there were about 15,000 civil partnerships formed in 2006 (as opposed to 6152 in 2011), some of the artificially high number of civil partnerships formed immediately after the legislation came into force have now come to an end after 6 years. It may be expected that as the number of civil partnerships dropped off in 2007 to 7,929, and decreased again in 2008 and 2009 before there was a small increase in 2010, the increase in dissolutions may drop off too.’
The most popular place to have a civil partnership outside of London is Brighton and Hove with a total of 222 ceremonies last year. London’s popular boroughs include Westminster with 275, Islington with 145 and Camden with 132.
2004′s Civil Partnership Act meant same-sex couples could have their relationships recognised in law for the first time. It also provided registered gay and lesbian couples with a number of legal rights and entitlements already held by heterosexual couples in civil marriages. The government currently plans to give full marriage rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by the next election.
The Scottish government announced on 25 July that it would bring forward moves to make same-sex marriages legal in Scotland, including those conducted by religious bodies.
A Home Office spokesperson has welcomed the ONS figures and the government’s decision:
‘This government believes society is stronger when couples commit to each other, which is why it is so encouraging to see more same-sex couples entering civil partnerships.’
‘We now want to make it possible for all couples, regardless of their gender, to get married. We will announce the results of our consultation by the end of the year.’
Same-sex partners were able to register from 5 December 2005 and the first registrations were in Northern Ireland on 19 December 2005, followed by Scotland on 20 December and then England and Wales on 21 December.