More than a quarter of homosexual people think there is “no need” to allow same-sex couples to marry because civil partnerships already give them the same rights, a poll suggests.
The first poll of its kind in Britain also found that only a minority of gay people believe redefining marriage should be a “priority” and only half said that having the opportunity to marry was important to them personally.
By contrast a similar proportion of homosexual people thought that David Cameron is only planning to change the law “to make his party look more compassionate” rather than out of conviction.
The survey by ComRes, on behalf of the religious campaign group Catholic Voices found that more than three quarters of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people supported same-sex marriage in principle.
And just over seven out of 10 believed marriage should be “more about love between two people than it is about rearing children”.
But only a minority (39 per cent) said that it was a “priority for gay people” and just over a quarter thought there was “no need” to change the law because civil partnerships, introduced under the last government, already confer the same legal rights as marriage.
But 49 per cent disagreed with this argument and 25 per cent were unsure.
The poll suggests that support for changing the law to redefine marriage among the homosexual community could be more lukewarm than previously thought.
In April Ben Bradshaw, the former Labour cabinet minister, who is himself in a civil partnership, described the Coalition’s plans to introduce same-sex marriage as “pure politics” insisting that it was “not priority for the gay community”.
But Stonewall, the gay rights group, argues strongly that unless same-sex couples are allowed to marry they will continue to face discrimination.
ComRes initially contacted more than 10,000 people of whom around five per cent – or 541 people – described themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or other.
Those who classed themselves as not heterosexual were then asked a series of questions about their views on marriage and civil partnerships.
Overall they supported the Government’s plans to extend civil marriage to homosexual couples with 77 per cent disagreeing with the statement that marriage should only be “between a man and a woman”.
Meanwhile 47 per cent agreed that keeping marriage and civil partnerships separate would “worsen public attitudes towards gay people” compared with 32 per cent who disagreed.
Just over one in four – or 27 per cent – said that they would marry their partner if the law allowed it, a similar proportion to those who would consider a civil partnership.
Dr Austen Ivereigh, director of Catholic Voices, said: “This survey explodes the myth that this is an issue of human rights, equality and discrimination.
“Gay people do not regard same-sex marriage as a priority, and show no more enthusiasm for it than for civil partnerships.”
He added: “Our earlier ComRes poll found that 70 per cent of British people agreed with the Churches that the current definition of marriage should be left alone.
“This new poll shows that the proposal to redefine marriage divides gay people as well as everyone else.
“Perhaps now we can move beyond caricatures and have a debate about the real issue – which is that the current definition of marriage in law has good reasons and important benefits.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: “This small sample sounds as if it reflects the wider gay population and that the vast majority of people want marriage.
“Given that we had a very thin Queen’s Speech last month and more parliamentary time on holiday than for many years it still seems clear that there are plenty of opportunities to go ahead with what the Government are proposing.”
He added that questions of whether marriage is a “priority” or “important” were subjective.
“I might say that a billion people in the world being close to starvation is a priority but that doesn’t mean that if there is parliamentary time – and there is plenty – that the Government should not push ahead with something that is also important to quite a lot of people.”
Colin Hart, director of the Coalition for Marriage campaign, which is opposing the propsed change, said: “This poll confirms yet again that only a handful of people are pushing the Government to redefine marriage.
“Even amongst those within the gay community, there is no majority who thinks that this is a priority.”