London, Jan 23 : A new survey of social attitudes in Britain has shown that heterosexual married couples are no longer regarded as the 'norm.'
The rise in cohabitation and an official failure to support traditional marriage and government support for gay couples and single parents are the factors believed to have led to previously unconventional lifestyles becoming widely accepted.
According to the British Social Attitudes report, by the National Centre for Social Research, more than 50 percent of people regard weddings simply as a celebration.
However, it has also claimed that people hold less tolerant views of family set-ups in which children are involved.
Based on the views of 3,300 adults, the survey also show that marriage, which used to be the bedrock institution of British society, is seen by two thirds of people as virtually indistinguishable from cohabitation.
According to the research, only one in four people thinks married couples make better parents than unmarried ones, while a third believe that gay male couples are as capable of being good parents as a man and a woman.
The finding therefore concludes that most people see weddings as an excuse for a party rather than a public declaration of lifelong commitment.
"The heterosexual married couple is no longer central as a social norm, but views are more traditional when it comes to bringing up children. Alternative family arrangements are seen as less acceptable," the Telegraph quoted Simon Duncan, the professor of social policy at Bradford University and co-author of the report, as saying.
The findings show that while four in 10 people think one parent can bring up a child as well as two parents, a similar proportion, 41 per cent, disagree.
It also shows that four in 10 people disagree with the view that a gay male couple are as capable of being good parents as a man and a woman, compared to 31 per cent who agree.
Almost a third of people think it should be harder for couples with children under 16 to get divorced.
Jill Kirby, the director of the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, said: "Married couples still represent 85 per cent of all couples, so it is still the norm and easily the majority choice at present.
"Most couples are married couples, 'same sex' couples are a small minority, and cohabitation - while increasingly popular - will often lead to marriage.
"The worry remains that family break-up is more associated with cohabiting couples than married ones and to encourage cohabitation is to risk the security of children. The Government needs to signal its support for marriage," he added.