Honeymoon over as gay couple seek divorce

Two years after gay rights campaigners celebrated the landmark law that legalised same-sex partnerships, the honeymoon is over — at least for one couple who have become the first to seek a divorce.

More than 1,000 gay couples have had their relationships formalised under the groundbreaking civil partnership law introduced in Jan 2011 but now, according to the Courts Service, one Dublin-based pair have called time on their union and applied to have it dissolved.

Under the dissolution requirements, a couple must be living apart for two years before they can apply to formally end their partnership, so this is the earliest the couple could have sought to officially part.

However, Brian Sheehan, director of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network says that does not necessarily mean they had the shortest civil partnership possible.

“We don’t know their circumstances, but it could be that they are one of the many couples who were married abroad long before Ireland ever had civil partnership, but are now living here so it is under Irish law that they would seek dissolution,” said Mr Sheehan.

Although the official term for ending a civil partnership is dissolution, the process is similar to divorce and the court has the same powers to make orders about the payment of maintenance, transfer of property, extinguishing of succession rights, and so on.

“The provisions are the same and there is the same emphasis that the vulnerable party is protected, so although it’s the first time a dissolution will be processed here, I would hope it would go smoothly for all involved,” said Mr Sheehan.

While some gay couples may be thinking of going their separate ways, others want to further legally reinforce their relationships and the campaign for full same-sex marriage got a boost this week in the run-up to the Constitutional Convention’s meeting on the issue.

The deadline for submissions to the convention, which will discuss the matter on April 13 and 14, passed during the week with more than 1,000 individuals and organisations contributing.

The other four issues considered by the convention to date only had between 12 and 28 submissions.

“They are running about four to one in favour of same-sex marriage,” Mr Sheehan said. “We’re really pleased that there’s been such a big response and that so many of them are supportive of taking the next step towards full equality.”

The Labour Party is also pushing the issue with draft legislation to amend existing laws that presume marriage to be a partnership between a man and a woman.

Marriage differs from civil partnership in that the latter does not allow for joint guardianship, adoption, custody, or access with relation to the children of a same-sex relationship.

Labour’s bill, if it becomes law, would not automatically provide for same-sex marriage but would remove any impediment to legalising it.

While one civil partnership may be on the rocks, Mr Sheehan said the institution had formed the bedrock for the current move towards full marriage equality.

“The key thing that civil partnership has done is bring forward the love and commitment that gay people have for each other and made it public, so that people can see there is a relationship of equal value and dignity to that of people in opposite-sex relationships,” he said.


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