Civil partnerships have proved far more popular than originally forecast, with more than 50,000 same-sex couples having tied the knot in Britain, official figures showed today.
So-called “gay divorces” are also rising as couples approach the “seven-year itch”, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) disclosed.
The number of civil partnerships formed since the ceremonies were legalised in December 2005 stood at 53,417 – equivalent to 106,834 civil partners – at the end of 2011.
When the last Labour government introduced the policy, it estimated that between 11,000 and 22,000 people would enter into civil partnerships in their first five years.
The ONS reported that 672 civil partnership dissolutions were granted in 2011, compared with 522 the year before, an increase of 29 per cent. Just over two per cent of male partnerships and 4.6 per cent of female partnerships had split up by that date.
Sarah Wood-Heath, a solicitor at Natalie Gamble Associates, which specialises in non-traditional family law, said: “An increase in dissolutions is a natural progression from the increase in the number of partnerships.
“Often couples need special advice because of the way children are conceived in a same-sex partnership - and the custody issues surrounding that can be different.”
After an initial rush of couples wanting to pledge their commitment to each another, numbers of civil partnership ceremonies have started creeping up again.
More than 15,400 couples entered into partnerships in 2006, the first full year after they were legalised, as long-standing couples acted to formalise their relationship.
The number dropped to 8,946 in 2007, 7,169 in 2008 and 6,281 in 2009. It increased to 6,385 in 2010 and to 6,795 in 2011, an increase of 6.4 per cent over the year.
The average age of people becoming partners fell slightly to 40.1 years old for men and to 38.3 years old for women.
The councils with the highest number of civil partnership registrations last year were Westminster, with 219 male and 56 female partnerships, and Brighton and Hove, with 121 male and 101 female partnerships.
London has been the most popular region in England and Wales to register a civil partnership in every year since the legislation was introduced. More than a quarter of civil partnerships last year took place in the capital.
The enthusiasm with which the concept of civil partnerships has been embraced in Britain will be seized on by supporters of gay marriage.
David Cameron has pledged to legislate to allow same-sex marriages by the year 2015, but has run into strong opposition among church leaders and more than 50 of his backbenchers as well as a handful of Labour MPs. A petition opposing the move, organised by the Coalition for Marriage, has attracted 589,000 signatures.
However, a succession of polls has shown strong public backing for homosexual couples to be allowed to marry.
A spokesman for Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, said: “It is evidently fantastic news that so many people have entered civil partnerships and that they have proved so popular. It is not just same-sex couples but wider society that supports this as well.”