Majority in Northern Ireland support same-sex marriages: survey
Attitudes towards same-sex relationships are softening in Northern Ireland with over half of us now in favour of gay marriage.
The number of people who believe that gay and lesbian relations are "always wrong" has also dropped by more than half over the past two decades, according to a new survey. In 1989, 76% believed such relationships were wrong. By 2012 it was down to 28%.
But more than a third expressed disapproval of gay adoption and of lesbians having equal access to fertility treatment.
Researchers from Queen's University Belfast interpreted the data from the 2012 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey (NILT), which uses a random sample of 1,200 people living across Northern Ireland.
Among those surveyed, less than half of those calling themselves Protestant (45%) were in support of same-sex marriage while the majority of Catholics (66%) and those declaring no religion (74%) were in favour.
The researchers noted that knowing someone who was gay or lesbian tended to promote positivity. Between 2005 and 2012, the percentage of people who knew someone who was lesbian or gay rose from 46% to 70%.
On the issue of gay adoption, despite the preference for heterosexual parents, the research found some softening of attitudes. In 1989, 11% thought that lesbians should be allowed to adopt a baby under the same conditions as heterosexual couples and 5% believed this in relation to gay couples. In the most recent survey, the figures were 40% and 36% respectively.
Researchers Dr Siobhan McAlister and Dr Nicola Carr, from Queen's School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, and youth worker Gail Neill, have been interpreting the trends from NILT before a public seminar on the subject in Belfast.
Speaking ahead of the event, Dr Carr said: "Over half of the survey's respondents expressed support for same-sex marriage, however, over one-third disapproved of gay adoption and also to lesbians having access to fertility treatment on the same basis as heterosexual women. At least one in four people did not believe that a lesbian or gay parent or parents with a child constituted a 'family'.
"The survey also found that, in general, females and those aged under 65 were more likely to report positive attitudes to same-sex relationships."
The first civil partnerships in the UK took place in Northern Ireland in 2005, closely followed by England, Wales and Scotland. The new Civil Partnership Act provided same-sex couples with the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. The first same-sex weddings will be allowed to take place next month in England and Wales. This comes after the Government's controversial legislation on the issue received Royal Assent in July. The Church of England, the Church in Wales and other faith groups stated their opposition. The Northern Ireland Assembly is not currently considering any legislation to allow same-sex marriage.