New Zealanders are drifting slowly away from formal marriage - and the new option of a "civil union" seems to have made no difference.
Statistics New Zealand said this week that the number of civil unions of NZ residents dropped from 374 in the first full year when they were legally possible (2006) to 316 last year - just 1.5 per cent of the number of traditional marriages.
"The civil unions legislation has proved to be a white elephant," trumpeted Bob McCoskrie of the conservative lobby group Family First.
But marriage is not faring too well either. A long-term analysis prepared for the Weekend Herald by Statistics NZ shows that by far the biggest trend in personal relationships in the past quarter-century has been a relentless rise in de facto partnerships.
The proportion of New Zealanders of 15 and over living with their legally married spouses has dropped from 59.5 per cent in 1981 to just 47.5 per cent in the 2006 Census.
The proportion living in de facto relationships has risen from 3.9 per cent to 13.1 per cent.
Those who were not living with a partner at all (classed as "single" in the table) rose from 36.6 per cent in 1981 to 42.4 per cent in 1991, as rising unemployment made many men apparently "unmarriageable".
But this number has dropped back steadily to 39.4 per cent in line with falling unemployment since then.
The 878 people who had had 439 civil unions between them by the time of the 2006 Census represented just three in every 10,000 people, or 0.03 per cent of those aged 15 or over.
Marriage remains far more popular than either de facto relationships or civil unions, accounting for 78.4 per cent of all those living in partnerships of any sort.
Celebrants Association secretary Keith King, a Hamilton Anglican priest who left his wife 12 years ago and entered a gay relationship, said most couples still wanted security.
"Always when I ask people why are you getting married, most people say it's because they want the stability of marriage," he said.
"We live in uncertain times with climate change, food shortages and so on. People are looking for security. They see marriage as an ancient institution, and I think they see that as providing some stability in their lives when everything else around them seems to be falling to pieces."
But he believes that civil unions will become more popular gradually.
"It's a huge culture shift," he said. "Let's face it, it takes years and years for culture shifts in the mainstream to happen, and to expect civil unions to take off over a five-year period is ridiculous." The evidence is that such a culture shift has already happened for de facto relationships. A UMR poll last year found that 78 per cent of New Zealanders, compared with only 59 per cent of Americans, now believe it is "morally acceptable" for unmarried men and women to have sex.
The proportion of Kiwi babies being born outside legal marriage has risen from less than a quarter (22.5 per cent) in 1981 to almost half (47.2 per cent) in 2006, giving New Zealand the sixth-highest rate of births outside marriage in the developed world. Only Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and France were higher.
Statistics NZ demographer Robert Didham said the figures also suggested a trend away from partnerships of all kinds, as the proportion of "singles" had still not fallen back to the levels seen before the economic upheaval of the late 1980s and early 90s.
Victoria University economist Paul Callister suggested many of the men affected when low-skilled jobs disappeared in the 1980s might never have got back into standard employment.
But the growth of "singlehood" could also reflect changing social choices.
THE TRADITIONAL WEDDING HAS A CERTAIN RING ABOUT IT
Vicki King has a gay father and children from previous relationships. But she and her partner Jon Morgan have still chosen to have a traditional marriage.
"I'm on the liberal side, definitely, and I said to Jon, 'Would you look at a civil union?"' she said.
"He was like flat out: 'No.' It was not even worth thinking about for him. And for me, as well, there is still that element in your head. It doesn't have the name. You can't say, 'We're getting civil-unioned' the way you can say, 'We're getting married'."
Ms King, 33, had a daughter, Phoenix, now 12, in a de facto relationship. "I was young and got pregnant," she said. "I got married to another man and we had a child together [son Charlie, now 7], but that marriage didn't work out.
"Then I met Jon about a year and a half ago, and we have just had a little girl [Willow] three months ago. Jon and I are going to get married later this year."
They are not religious and plan to marry either at Willow Glen, a Hamilton restaurant and reception centre which they have taken over from Ms King's father Keith, or in the Pacific Islands.
It won't be conventional. Mr Morgan, 28, plans to stand at the front with baby Willow instead of a best man, and Ms King will join him with her two older children instead of her father.
Ms King will become "Mrs Morgan" and the children will add the name "Morgan" to their existing names. "It will be easier at school, and if they want to use it when they're older, they can."
MARRIAGE JUST 'DIDN'T FIT', SAY COUPLE
Hayden Wilson and Amanda Kent describe themselves as " husband" and "wife" even though they have had a civil union, not a marriage.
The Wellington couple were one of 63 heterosexual couples who opted for a civil union last year. They did it because marriage just "didn't fit".
"I guess it's about other people's perceptions more than ours," said Ms Kent, 33, who manages quality and diversity policy for the State Services Commission.
"Marriage is seen as being very, very traditional and I'm not traditional in any sense of the word. I've never done things the way things should be done."
Mr Wilson, a 32-year-old lawyer, said he wanted a ceremony that was free of any religious connotations and did not exclude the couple's gay friends who still cannot get married.
Both partners have lived in previous relationships and Ms Kent has an 8-year-old son from one of them.
But after six years together, she and Mr Wilson wanted to tell their friends and family publicly that "this is forever".
They did it on a Friday night. Their guests were asked to be there at 7pm, and Mr Wilson, Ms Kent and her son "rocked in while everyone was standing around drinking" half-an-hour later.
They both made speeches, and both ended by turning to the other and saying "something along the lines of, 'Here, in front of our friends and family, I choose you'," Ms Kent said.
"It took a few months after that to sort out the language. We still had this whole, 'This is my partner ... ' What do I say?" In the end they dropped the word "partner", partly because of confusion with professional partners in Mr Wilson's law firm.
"We describe each other as 'husband' and 'wife'," Ms Kent said.
"I think most people wouldn't even query whether our relationship is a civil union or a marriage or a de facto relationship."