EVEN though the Civil Partnership Bill has disappointed extremist opponents and advocates equally it is a wonderful recognition of the rights and dignity of all Irish people irrespective of their sexual orientation or domestic arrangements.
Despite its unavoidably limited scope — it does not provide any right for same-sex couples with children to be legally recognised as joint parents — it is by far the most significant recent advance in social legislation.
In comparison to the visceral and bitter arguments — not to mention time wasting — on stag hunting, puppy farming and even Fine Gael’s most recent family spat, the Civil Partnership Bill is of real significance.
It has the capacity to change people’s and families lives for the better. It recognises in law what the great majority of Irish people have accepted and celebrated as reality for some considerable time. It acknowledges that families can be led by single-sex couples and that real, loving, life-long relationships do not need to be endorsed by anyone other than the State. And it makes redundant the corrosive hypocrisy we have all been forced to indulge in because our laws did not recognise what society long ago accepted.
It is comforting too that the legislation did not generate even a fraction of the protest surrounding Mr Gormley’s disingenuous crusades but even that comfort is diminished by the fact they this legislation should have been enacted years ago.
When the Dáil passed all stages of the Bill shortly after 8.40pm on Thursday — without a vote — our legal support for a situation that was unjust, sometimes cruel and oppressive came to an end.
Speaking in Leinster House Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said that the Bill created, for the first time in Irish law, a scheme under which same-sex couples could formally declare their allegiance to one another, register their partnership under new provisions in the Civil Registration Act 2004, commit themselves to a range of duties and responsibilities and at the same time be subject under new law to a series of protections in the course of their partnership in the event of a failure of either party to maintain the other and in the event of disputes between them as to ownership of property.
That means that the 2,090 same-sex cohabiting couples, registered in the 2006 census and the partnerships established since then, can no longer by treated any differently to any other couple in living in Ireland.
The legislation marks another weakening of the ties between the Catholic church and functioning of the State. Catholic bishops criticised the legislation arguing that it undermines marriage. It may undermine the sacrament of marriage as defined by the Catholic church but it recognises the fact that increasing numbers of Irish people do not look to Catholicism for guidance on these matters.
The bishops also called for a “freedom of conscience” provision which would allow registrars not to officiate at same-sex unions. Minister Ahern is to be congratulated for rejecting that suggestion as our Constitution must be the authority we all recognise. It is surprising too that, after decades of scandal surrounding child abuse, that Catholicism has not absorbed this lesson.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved