The introduction of civil unions in New Zealand have been branded as a “waste of time” after only 458 gay and straight couples have chosen to civil unions over 20,000 straight couples who opted for marriages.

New Zealand introduced civil unions a year ago today for both gay and straight couples although only straight couples are entitled to marry under the legislation within the Marriage Act.

Figures released by the Department of Internal Affairs show that there have been 178 gay civil unions, 199 lesbian civil unions and 81 straight unions.

National Party MP Bill English, who opposed the introduction of civil unions told the Press: “I’m not surprised at the figures. It was much more about symbolism than reality. There was only ever a small number of people that wanted that recognition for their relationship.”

“I don’t think there was ever an overwhelming demand for it and it was much more political symbolism for gay activists than anything else.”

He claimed that the number of people impacted by the introduction of civil unions implies that it is worthless: “It was largely a waste of time. I do concede that for a small group of people it matters, but the impact has been minute compared to the emotion that was put into it.”

However, Labour MP Tim Barnett, who introduced the legislation to implement civil unions said that he was not surprised with the figures: “I’m happy with that. I don’t think I ever thought it was going to be a numbers game. Although our opponents put figures on it, we saw it simply as giving same-sex relationships a legal standing, and it has. Civil unions have become part of the wallpaper of the nation,” he said.

Mr Barnett is planning his own civil union next year said that the legislation was important for lesbian and gay couples: “It has given them what they need. And the fact that 460 couples have taken it up while 20,000 have also opted for marriages shows the two can co-exist. Its not about numbers on either side, it’s about choice.”

Andy Forrest of the gay rights group Stonewall told PinkNews.co.uk: “Having fought for so long for civil partnerships in Britain, it would be disappointing that Mr English has labelled his own country’s civil unions as a waste of time just as they because they primarily benefit gay people.

“In New Zealand, straight couples have the choice to marry or to have civil unions. Gay couples have only the choice of a civil union. It is therefore ridiculous to compare the figures for civil unions and marriages as it is not yet a level playing field.

He added: “Clearly, there are less lesbian and gay couples than straight couples as we are a minority group.”