THE BLOG

Same-Sex, Different Gender: How Women Are Driving Formal Gay Relationships

22/08/2014 11:47 BST | Updated 21/10/2014 10:59 BST

The last decade has been a momentous one for gay rights campaigners.

Having long demanded the opportunity to put their relationships on the same footing as heterosexual couples, their efforts resulted in the Civil Partnerships Act, which received Royal Assent in November 2004 and led to the first same-sex couples formalising their relationships just over a year later.

Even though they proved enormously popular, many believed that the greater social weight carried by marriage meant that civil partnerships could not provide a full stop.

After parliament passed the necessary legislation in July 2013, there was much anticipation in advance of the first same-sex marriages at the end of March. Now that the hard work had been done, would many individuals decide to take up their legal right to marry?

Well, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has now provided an answer of sorts. It has just published the very first set of figures giving at least an initial impression of whether gay marriage really has taken off.

They show great parallels with civil partnerships in that first few months produced something of a surge in couples exchanging vows.

However, the most interesting element of the data is that they confirm a curious dynamic in such relationships. It is women - and, in particular, young women - who are responsible for a growing proportion of formal same-sex unions.

Fifty-six per cent of women married, most of them in their late twenties and early thirties, just as slightly more women than men became civil partners, according to another chunk of ONS material published last October.

The same package of statistics showed that women were, once again, more likely than their male counterparts to dissolve a civil partnership if they felt that it wasn't working.

Naturally, the question arises as to why women are fuelling those same-sex partnerships which adopt a formal, legal structure.

I strongly believe that one factor is family. The women most likely to marry are also at an age when women are likely to have children. It may well be that they feel marriage provides stability and certainty at a time when they are considering yet another important milestone in their personal lives.

There could well be a further reason. In my experience and that of my colleagues and peers in family law to whom I've spoken on the topic, women appear to have less of a problem than men when it comes to commitment.

Even though it sounds like I'm merely repeating a long-established generalisation, it is borne out by the dealings which I have had with same-sex couples. I have handled a number of enquiries from gay partners of both genders about prenuptial agreements.

Most of the men have gone away to think about it and done nothing, often choosing not to marry either. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to weigh up the document's value and proceed.

It is, of course, worth remembering that what the ONS has produced is just a snapshot - figures relating to the first three full months of same-sex marriage.

What will be interesting to note is what happens in December, when those couples who had entered into civil partnerships become entitled to convert them into full marriages.

Marriage and civil partnerships enjoy equal protection in law - especially as regards how they might divide their assets when they separate - and any formalising of relationships runs counter to the prevailing trend among heterosexuals, for whom cohabitation continues to increase.

However, I expect that the efforts historically put into trying to gain parity from a social standpoint might well cause a considerable number of civil partners to convert, further increasing the amount of same-sex marriages.

I wouldn't be surprised either if, once more, women represent the majority of those doing so.