Over 2021, 6,731 couples entered civil partnerships, and of those, the overwhelming majority (5,692) were formed by opposite sex couples for the second year in a row.
Nevertheless, the number represents a fall of nearly 20 per cent from the previous year. In 2020 there were 8,351 new civil partnerships, of which 7,566 were between opposite sex couples – almost 25 per cent more than the following year.
ONS statisticians believe this fall could be at least partly attributable to the restrictions placed on gatherings and receptions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, 56.9 per cent of the 1,039 same sex civil partnerships formed in 2021 were between male couples.
A spokesman for the ONS explained:
“Current data show the age distribution of people forming opposite-sex civil partnerships is older than those forming same-sex civil partnerships. Our data shows those forming opposite-sex civil partnerships are more likely to have been previously married or civil partnered than those forming same-sex civil partnerships.”
Civil partnerships were first introduced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which came into force across England and Wales in December 2005. They were designed to provide same sex couples with a secular way to celebrate and formalise their relationship, one without the religious overtones of marriage. There was still significant opposition to the idea of extending traditional marriage to gay couples at the time. Civil partnerships provide almost the same range of legal and financial protections.
By 2014, the cultural climate had changed and marriage finally became an option for same sex couples in England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland was slower off the mark, but eventually legalised such unions in January 2020.
Following the introduction of same sex marriage, civil partnerships remained available, but one limited to same sex couples. This restriction provided controversial, and campaigners opposed to the traditional, religious nature of marriage took legal action. In June 2018, the Supreme Court declared the exclusion of opposite couples discriminatory and ordered the government to change the law. Civil partnerships were duly extended to opposite sex couples on the last day of 2019, and as we saw above, more than 7,500 couples took advantage over the following 12 months. Meanwhile, same sex couples were already a minority, and the number of those opting for civil partnerships rather than marriage has remained at consistently low levels since 2014.
The full set of ONS data is available here.