Study reveals changing attitudes to same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland
Data from the NI Life and Times survey suggests a softening of attitudes towards gay marriage
Catholics in Northern Ireland are far more welcoming of same-sex marriage than Protestants, according to information newly analysed by Queen's University, Belfast.
The data comes from the annual NI Life and Times survey, which asks 1,200 people in Northern Ireland questions on multiple topics, ranging from rights of the child to social care for the elderly.
The new analysis reveals Northern Ireland's population are becoming increasingly supportive and accepting of homosexuality.
The number of respondents who described homosexual relationships as "always wrong" has dropped massively from 76% in 1989 to 28% in 2012.
On the question of same-sex marriage specifically, Dr Nicola Carr, from QUB's School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, was quoted by the BBC as saying: "Over half of the survey's respondents expressed support for same-sex marriage."
Religion is a powerful influence on support for gay marriage, the figures suggest.
QUB's Dr Siobhan McAlister, another sociologist, was quoted by the BBC as saying that: "Respondents declaring a Protestant affiliation were more likely to report negative attitudes towards same-sex marriage than Catholics, or people declaring 'no religion'."
When asked about support for gay marriage, 74% of those with no religion said they were in favour in 2012. That number drops to 66% for Catholics, and dips below half for Protestants, reaching only 45%.
"Beliefs about homosexuality were also found to be influential. People who viewed homosexuality as a 'choice' tended to hold more negative views than those who believed sexual orientation cannot be changed," Dr McAlister added.
On other issues, the population was less positive. Less than two thirds of respondents supported same sex adoption or the provision of the same level of fertility treatment for lesbians as heterosexual women.
Dr Carr also added: "At least one-in-four people did not believe that a lesbian or gay parent, or parents with a child, constituted a 'family'."
Northern Ireland was the first country in the UK to introduce civil partnerships for same-sex couples in December 2005.
However presently the Northern Irish Assembly at Stormont is not processing same-sex marriage legislation, and is the only country in the UK not to be doing so.