Authors of a study at the University of Manchester into how people regard civil partnerships say gay couples and their acquaintances see the relationship in the same way as their parents’ marriages.

While such a level of social acceptance may not be surprising, coming ahead of tomorrow’s government consultation on how to introduce equal marriage rights for gays the sociologists say marriage may no longer have “the status it once had”.

They further claim that religious figures speaking out against equal marriage may “miss this point”.

The three-year study funded by the Funded by the Economic and Social Research council found legal rights and protections were a secondary consideration for couples who wanted to express their commitment to each other.

Based on in-depth interviews with 100 civil partners below the age of 35, the sociologists found they largely viewed and presented themselves as married in the same was as their parents.

Billed as one of the first research projects to acknowledge the impact of growing up with a sense of the acceptability and ordinariness of lesbian and gay relationships, it will form part of a book by Palgrave later this year.

Professor Brian Heaphy who conducted the research along with his Manchester colleagues Professor Carol Smart and Dr Anna Einarsdottir said: “The same sex couples we studied often related to each other in a similar way that their heterosexual married parents would do.

“And like many heterosexual marriages, their relationships involve negotiating money management and debt, and juggling the demands of work and home life. For the most part they assume monogamous sexual and emotional commitments and are strongly connected to the families they grew up with.

“For the majority, legal ‘rights’ and protections were a secondary consideration in the decision to form a civil partnership.”

The project’s findings follow David Cameron proposals for full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples last year.

Professor Heaphy added: “It’s fascinating how attitudes to same sex relationships are nowadays seen as a measure of your liberal credentials.

“Cameron’s comments would have been unthinkable for a senior Conservatives until very recently.

“As a result of civil partnerships and other changes, many young same sex couples are now have a feeling being ordinary in a way previous generations never did.

“The institution of heterosexual marriage no longer has the status it once had, which may explain why gay men and lesbians are able to buy into the notion being ‘married’ more easily.

“Most of the couples we studied saw themselves as married, and were mostly treated as such by their close circles, colleagues and officials.

“In this sense, civil partnership is already widely accepted as a form of marriage. Recent attempts by senior religious figures to stop same sex marriage miss this point.”

Similarly, couples subscribed to broader cultural beliefs about good marriages based on love, enduring commitment, mutual care and support, sexual exclusivity, equality and respect, communication and stability.

Men, however, were less likely to see parenting as part of their future and immigration provided the impetus for eight couples to formalise their commitment, as did joint parenting for six of them.