As Irish gay rights advocates await the government’s proposals on legal recognition of same-sex partners, a new opinion poll has found that the vast majority of their countrymen and women are in favour.

MarriagEquality, a group formed to campaign for full civil marriage, has released the details of a poll it commissioned which shows the number of Irish people who support partnerships only has fallen from 33% to 26%.

Overall 84% of those polled support either gay marriage or civil partnerships.

The Irish government has ruled out gay marriage, claiming that it would require a change to the country’s constitution and a potentially divisive referendum.

Justice Minister Brian Lenihan is expected to bring forward proposals for a form of civil partnerships at the end of this month.

It is understood that the Republic of Ireland will recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions and civil partnerships from other countries when it legalises same-sex unions.

The UK already recognises same-sex unions and marriages from nearly 20 countries, including Canada, the US and France.

At present Irish citizens are entering into partnerships in the UK, Canada and other nations.

New research into US Census Bureau data published earlier this month revealed that 1,200 Irish-born gay men and lesbians are living with a same-sex partner in America.

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy also found that two-thirds of Irish-born same-sex partners are women and 15% are raising children.

In December Mr Lenihan rejected the possibility of a referendum to allow gay marriage.

Article 41 of the Irish constitution says:

“The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.”

It does not give any definition of marriage itself, and critics and constitutional scholars argue it does not outlaw gay marriage.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network last year, Mr Lenhian said he was keen to guarantee equality to gay people.

“This government, as our agreed programme reflects, is committed to full equality of opportunity for all in our society.

“In particular, we are committed to providing a more supportive and secure legal environment for same-sex couples” he said.

“I believe equality for same-sex couples can be achieved through a diversity of legal arrangements.

“I am very keen that in the interests to your community we should proceed now to bring in a law that will give recognition and protection to same sex couples who are involved in loving stable relationships.”

The Minister said that the expected law should allow couples to formalise their relationships, undertake mutual rights and obligations, obtain legal protection and legal benefits for their relationships.

In 2007 the Prime Minister of Ireland Bertie Ahern said that legislation would be approved during the lifetime of his government.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993.

Both discrimination and incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation are illegal.