A shock survey of 2,000 British people has found that seven out of every 10 believe that marriage should continue to be defined as only being between a man and woman.

The poll, commissioned by the Catholic Voices group and conducted by an independent company, may indicate that the British government could face public opposition to its plans to legalise same-sex marriage.

Fifty-nine percent of the people surveyed, however, backed stable relationships between same-sex couples being legally recognised through the current civil partnership system.

The poll was released at the beginning of an effort by the Catholic Church and other religious groups to mobilise opinion against the government’s plans.

“The results show that most people support the idea of civil partnerships for gay people while being firm that marriage should remain between a man and a woman,” said Austen Ivereigh, Catholic Voices coordinator. “The survey also shows that most people understand marriage to be a conjugal institution, which benefits children above all.”

Surprisingly, the lack of support for same-sex marriage was consistent across age groups. Previous opinions polls had shown that younger people were more in favour of marriage equality.

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