By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 9:15 PM on 04th August 2009
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The popularity of civil partnerships among homosexuals has fallen sharply, figures showed yesterday.
The number of gay and lesbian couples having the ceremonies, which give them the same legal privileges as husbands and wives, dropped by almost a fifth last year.
They are now at a level well below what ministers predicted when the legislation was being drawn up six years ago.
Sir Elton John and David Furnish at their civil partnership in Windsor in 2005. The number of partnerships fell by 1,559 last year after an initial surge of ceremonies
Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that 7,169 civil partnerships were formed last year, down from 8,728 in 2007.
The total is far less than the 18,000 gay relationships that were legally recognised in the boom year of 2006, when many longstanding couples took advantage of the partnership law in its first months of operation.
The legislation was introduced in December 2005, giving couples joint pension rights and freedom from inheritance tax.
The partnerships can be formalised in register offices or in the same 'approved premises' recognised for civil weddings, often stately homes.
They were designed strictly for sexual partners, an aim that was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights last year, when it rejected an attempt by two sisters from Wiltshire, Joyce and Sybil Burden, to take out a civil partnership to avoid paying inheritance tax when one of them dies.
In 2003, the Government estimated that as many as 62,000 couples would take out civil partnerships by 2010.
The present total is 33,956, meaning the figure, which was based on a gay lobby estimates of the homosexual population, is unlikely to be reached.
Of last year's civil partnerships, 53 per cent were male and 47 per cent female.
The average age of a male civil partners was 41 while for women it was 40, both slightly lower than in 2007.
Almost one in four of all civil partnerships was taken out in London, but there were also high numbers in Brighton, which is one of the most popular towns in Britain among homosexuals.
The figures show that there is one 'gay marriage' ceremony for every 38 weddings. There were 270,000 marriages in Britain in 2007, the last year for which figures are available.
There were just 180 gay divorces, or civil partnership dissolutions last year, a low figure which means that just over one in 200 of partnerships has ended in the courts.
The figure is, however, likely to increase in future years as the number and length of partnerships grow.
Among married couples, divorce rates are at their lowest level in more than 25 years, with just under 12 in every 1,000 marriages ending in divorce in 2007.
Those who have had civil partnership ceremonies-include Sir Elton John and his long term partner David Furnish. They made their relationship legal on the first possible day in December 2005.
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw and Shadow Commons Leader Alan Duncan have also formalised long-term relationships with their partners.
There has been one notable celebrity dissolution of a partnership, in the case of the break-up of comedian Matt Lucas and partner Kevin McGee.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: 'After civil partnerships were legislated there was a huge surge of couples who had been together for decades who suddenly wished to take advantage of the legal recognition.
'But just like younger generations of heterosexual couples who often prefer to cohabit, young gay and lesbian couples are not so concerned about formalising the legal status of their relationship.'
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