Justice Minister Dermot Ahern today signed the Commencement Orders for the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights of Cohabitants Act 2010.
Enacted in July, the Act establishes a civil partnership registration scheme for same-sex couples together with a range of rights, obligations and protections including maintenance obligations, protection of a shared home, pension rights and succession.
The Commencement Orders mean that from January 1 same-sex couples will be able to apply to the Civil Registrar to enter into a civil partnership, although due to a three-month notice period the first civil partnership ceremonies are likely to occur in April.
On registration of a civil partnership, the civil partners will be treated in the same way as spouses under the tax and social welfare codes. The changes required to introduce civil partnership into the tax and social welfare codes also come into effect from January 1.
“I am particularly pleased to bring this Act into operation," Minister Ahern said today.
"The new legal regime reflects the many forms of relationships in modern Irish society," he added.
"Gay couples, whose relationships have not previously been given legal recognition by the State, may now formalise their relationships in the eyes of the law and society at large.
"The new law recognises and supports diversity. It affords certainty of status and security for civil partners."
Gay rights groups have welcomed the move.
"With this signing, the Minister is opening up a great and wide vista of futures, opportunities, celebrations and more secure futures for lesbian and gay couples," said Kieran Rose, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).
Mr Rose paid tribute to Minister Aher "for his leadership, determination and principled approach to the bringing this legislation to fruition".
The minister also signed orders which will automatically recognise a wide range of foreign same-sex civil marriages and same-sex civil partnerships as Irish civil partnerships. Same-sex couples who are already married or are civil partners through these recognised foreign relationships will be deemed civil partners in Ireland from early January.
An information booklet on the registration process is available at www.groireland.ie