One in 48 weddings in Essex are now same-sex, new figures reveal.

With homosexual couples making up a growing percentage of weddings across England and Wales, Stonewall said it was a "hopeful sign of more good things to come".

In Essex, 148 same-sex weddings were conducted in 2017, the latest Office for National Statistics data shows.

At 2.1 per cent of all ceremonies, this is the highest annual rate since the first same-sex marriages were recorded, in 2015.

It means the area is below the average across England and Wales, where 2.9 per cent of weddings involved same-sex couples in 2017.

Of the weddings held in Essex, 65 were between men and 83 between women.

However, the data does not include same-sex civil partnerships which were converted into marriages.

Though the proportion of same-sex weddings was a record in England and Wales, the 6,932 in 2017 decreased slightly from the 7,019 the year before.

Laura Russell, director of campaigns, policy and research at Stonewall, said: "It’s wonderful to see the numbers of same-sex couples getting married and celebrating their love in England and Wales.

"While there’s still lots to do before the lived day-to-day experience of many lesbian, gay, bi and trans people is truly equal and many same-sex couples across the world aren’t able to marry, this news is a hopeful sign of more good things to come."

Across England, the number of marriages has remained steady over the last five years, with 242,842 in 2017.

Kanak Ghosh, from the ONS, said: “Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at the lowest level on record.

"This continues a gradual long-term decline seen since the early 1970s, with numbers falling by a third over the past 40 years."

The same ONS figures show the rate of opposite-sex couples marrying in a religious venue in Essex has stayed broadly the same.

Of the 6,935 marriages in Essex in 2017, 19 per cent were conducted in a church, synagogue or other religious venue, compared to 23 per cent across England and Wales.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said the vast majority of people don't identify as religious.

He said: "So it's not surprising that couples don't look to religion to celebrate the most meaningful moments in their lives anymore.

"Instead they want non-religious ceremonies that reflect their beliefs, their values, and their love."