Same-sex couples to be legally recognised under bill

SAME-SEX couples will have legal recognition of their relationships through civil partnership registration this time next year, according to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.

The Government has stopped short, however, of allowing gay marriage or adoption for same-sex couples in proposed laws published yesterday.

The heads of the Civil Partnership Bill were approved by government ministers at a cabinet meeting, setting out a statutory basis for same-sex couples to register their relationships.

This will give gay and lesbian couples legal rights in relation to sharing their home, taxation, maintenance and pensions.

The move has received a guarded welcome from gay activists and civil rights groups who believe only full marriage rights will give same-sex couples equality with opposite-sex couples.

The civil partnership process will be open to couples who are over 18 and who give three months’ notice of their wish to register their partnership. The partnership can only be ended by agreement between both partners, or through court intervention.

Civil partnership will not be available to opposite-sex couples, but the bill does provide separate cohabiting rights for such couples.

This includes a redress scheme where one partner can take the other to court to seek compensation in the event of a breakup.

This is described as a “legal safety net” in the event one partner is suffering economic difficulty following the break up, and only applies to couples who have been living together for three years, or two years in the case of those with children.

Mr Ahern stressed that civil partnership will be different to marriage and marriage could not be included in the bill as this would be contrary to article 41 of our constitution and would require a referendum.

“We’re going as far as we can without... effecting the Constitution,” said the minister.

This aspect of the Constitution is subject to a Supreme Court appeal involving a lesbian couple, Katherine Zappone and Anne Louise Gilligan.

Gay rights campaigner Senator David Norris was one of those who believes the bill does not go far enough. “It seems to me to be a mean-minded, begrudging, minimal proposal. I certainly won’t be accepting it,” he said.

The country’s biggest gay representative group, GLEN, strongly welcomed the move but called for further parenting rights for same-sex couples.

“Comprehensive civil partnership is a major milestone towards equality,” said spokesman Kieran Rose. “The provisions outlined will resolve many immediate and pressing issues faced by lesbian and gay couples and will also provide a platform for further progress.

“The proposals in the heads of bill however, do not provide for legal recognition of the many same-sex couples, particularly women, who are parenting children together, leaving these parents and their children outside the protection of the State,” he said.

Moninne Griffith of Marriage Equality said: “Under civil partnership, the children of lesbian and gay mums and dads will be left in limbo with no constitutional or legal recognition, or protection. Therefore, civil partnership from the outset is not marriage-like, it is separate and it reinforces inequality.”

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties welcomed the bill but director Mark Kelly said: “Only the introduction of civil marriage for same-sex couples will achieve full equality of status with opposite-sex couples.”


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