Characteristics of Same-sex Couples in New Zealand


Over recent decades there have been significant changes in the way families form and dissolve. While the proportion of traditional nuclear families has decreased, there has been an increase in more diverse family types, including cohabitation as a common living arrangement, particularly in younger age groups. Marriage has become less central in how people manage their living arrangements, and it is being seen less and less as a prerequisite for cohabitation.

What this report covers

This report will describe some demographic characteristics and the economic well-being of people in New Zealand who reported living in same-sex partnerships, compared with people who reported living in opposite-sex partnerships, at the 2006 Census. The research aims to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the demographic differences between people living in same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships and how can these differences be explained?
  2. What are the underlying factors that explain the earning power of same-sex couples?
  3. Why do same-sex couples appear to be more mobile?

The descriptive analysis of couple families uses a series of demographic variables including age, sex, usual residence, legal marital status, and number of dependent children. Other variables of interest are qualification, occupation, income, and usual residence five years ago.

Legal context of same-sex partnerships in New Zealand

The Crimes Amendment Bill was introduced in 1974 to legalise private ‘homosexual acts’ between consenting adults. The Homosexual Law Reform Act, which came into effect on 8 August 1986, decriminalised sexual relations between men aged 16 years and over. It became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in 1993 when the Human Rights Act was passed.

The Civil Union Act was passed in April 2005 and provided couples, either of the same sex or opposite sex, to have their relationships formalised through a civil union ceremony officially registered in New Zealand. Following on from the Civil Union Act, the Relationships (Statutory References) Act 2005 included amendments to a series of Acts to allow the same legal protection of civil union partners as spouses or de facto partners. For example, in the Human Rights Act 1993, amendments were made so people in a civil union or de facto relationship were regarded equal to a married person.