Dr Mark Henrickson, a senior lecturer in social work at the Auckland campus, says the recently-publicised slow uptake among both heterosexual and same-sex couples formalising their relationship since civil unions became legal three years ago is irrelevant.
"It is the right to legal recognition of same-sex relationships, rather than recognition of relationships per se, that forms the foundation of lesbian, bisexual and gay support for government recognition of same-sex relationship," he says in a new paper titled Civilised Unions, Civilised Rights: Same-Sex Relationships in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The paper is the latest to be published from a major on-going survey into the lives of lesbians, gays and bisexual people, titled Lavender Islands: Portrait of the Whole Family, launched in March 2004.
His survey, conducted during the period of robust public debate on civil unions prior to the Civil Union Act being passed in 2005, found that the majority of the 2,269 respondents strongly supported civil union legislation. An overwhelming 95 percent of those in relationships and 93 percent of singles supported government recognition of same-sex couples.
But despite 66 per cent of partnered respondents and 63 per cent of single respondents saying they would undertake legal recognition of a relationship at some point in the future, "the actual uptake of civil unions has been somewhat less than survey data would suggest," says Dr Henrickson.
Recent Statistics New Zealand figures show the number of civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples had dropped from 374 in 2006 (the first year they were legally possible) to 316 last year.
While more same-sex couples may get hitched via civil union in the future, Dr Henrickson says one implication of his study is that public officials reduced the demand for same-sex marriage simply by legalising it.
Civil unions became law three years ago as a way of giving same-sex and heterosexual couples a legal equivalent to marriage. Heterosexual couples can opt for traditional marriage, while same-sex couples cannot.