Civil partnerships fall but marriage rates hold in NI

The number of new civil partnerships in Northern Ireland has declined for three years in a row, but the number of people marrying has remained steady.

Civil partnerships were legalised in December 2005, but the number of people entering into them has fallen for three successive years since their introduction.

In 2006, 2007 and 2008 the numbers of civil partnerships were 116, 111 and 86 respectively.

But in the same three years the number of people marrying remained steady with 8,259, 8,687 and 8,510 marriages respectively.

The decline in the number of civil partnerships came to light in a Northern Ireland Assembly Question by South Antrim SDLP MLA, Thomas Burns.

Mr Burns said: “We would have thought there would have been a bigger rise in civil partnerships but there has actually been a dip in their number year on year”.

He added: “However, in marriages we see the figures have held steady at around 8,500 per year.”

Last August official statistics revealed that the number of civil partnerships throughout the UK was continuing to fall significantly.

The 7,169 civil partnerships formed in 2008 represented an 18 per cent fall from the 2007 figure of 8,728.

Between 2006 and 2007 the drop had been even greater, down 46 per cent after the initial ‘boom’ of 16,106 registrations after the Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005.

Earlier this week a group of liberal bishops and academics called for homosexual couples to be able to have civil partnership ceremonies in churches.

The bishops are backing a proposed amendment to the Equality Bill which would open the door for churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, to carry out civil partnership ceremonies if they wished to do so.

But there is widespread concern that a change in the law would be the first step towards forcing it upon all churches in the future.

Last November Ben Summerskill, head of gay lobby group Stonewall, admitted: “Right now, faiths shouldn’t be forced to hold civil partnerships, although in ten or 20 years, that may change.”

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