The Civil Partnership Bill has been broadly welcomed by civil rights activists and, in particular, the Gay and Lesbian Network (GLEN).
However, a spokesperson for GLEN said yesterday the bill had shortcomings and they would continue to press for full marriage status for same-sex couples.
“The bill is a very big step forward and provides a very extensive range of rights and obligations for same-sex couples but our goal is still full marital equality,” said Eoin Collins, GLEN’s director of policy change.
He acknowledged the bill still represents one of the biggest changes in Irish family law in generations.
The new bill puts in place a legal safety-net for people living in long-term relationships who might be vulnerable financially at the end of a relationship, whether through break-up or through bereavement.
Mr Collins said he was also gratified to see that the legislation had been given support across the full political spectrum: “There has been a major level of consensus in the Oireachtas, reflecting, I think, more liberal values in Ireland than existed even a relatively short time ago. We have, in the space of 15 years, gone from a position where sex between men was regarded as a crime to one of the most comprehensive antidiscrimination laws, that includes sexual orientation, in the world.”
However, Mr Collins said GLEN would continue to press for full equality, particularly in relation to the raising of children “The bill is silent on the issue of parenting by same-sex couples where one partner is the biological mother or father and that is something we would like to see addressed.”
Mr Collins said the issue of parenting outside marriage also affected unmarried heterosexual couple: “There are a significant number of cohabitants with children and an amendment to this bill could provide those children with the added protection they need.
“Currently, only married couples can jointly adopt a child but a single person can adopt regardless of their sexual orientation. We believe that same-sex couples should be considered as adoptive parents, subject to same rigours assessment as anyone else.”
Last month Irish Catholic Church bishops attacked the bill for “undermining” marriage.
The Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey, Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones and Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan claimed people who refused to carry out the ceremonies for gay couples would face fines and “up to six months in prison”.
However, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern has rejected calls from religious leaders to include a faith “opt-out” for registrars to refuse to carry out the ceremonies.