Civil Partnership Bill published


A Bill which will give people in long-term relationships many of the statutory rights of married couples has been published.

The legislation will allow same-sex couples to register their civil partnership for the first time and will also recognise a number of other rights and obligations previously denied to them. Unmarried opposite-sex couples will be allowed to register, as will those in non-sexual relations such as cohabiting companions.

Under the Bill, once a civil partnership is registered, the couple will be dealt with in the same way as a married couple by the Revenue Commissioners.

"The Bill has been carefully framed to balance any potential conflict between these two constitutionally guaranteed rights. This balance is achieved by maintaining material distinctions between civil partnership and marriage, in particular between the rights attaching to both, while at the same time reflecting the equality rights protected by the Constitution,” Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern this afternoon.

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.

It gives legal recognition to agreements enabling cohabitants to regulate their joint financial and property affairs. A range of rights and duties including maintenance obligations, protection of a shared home, pension rights and succession are all covered under the Bill.

Labour’s Brenan Howlin said the Bill "falls short” in terms of a commitment to equality.

“The advancing of the social agenda has always been a slow and difficult one for our country. Labour is committed to the achievement of true equality and our own Civil Union Bill, which was twice defeated by Fianna Fail, and their partners in Government, goes much further to achieving this important objective than today’s Bill,” Mr Howlin said.

He said it was “ironic” the Greens had criticised Labour’s Bill for not going far enough when it was first introduced in the Dail Eireann and “now that they have arrived in Government they are content to settle for a lot less.”

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) this afternoon praised the Minister for Justice for publishing a bill that it hailed as "broadly progressive".

"This new legal structure offers a solid foundation for the recognition and protection of loving same sex relationships. However, although it is solidly grounded, the Bill remains a halfway house to granting genuine equality to same sex couples through full civil marriage," said ICCL director Mr Mark Kelly.

"Now the onus is on those who, for religious or other reasons, still believe that it is acceptable to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation to explain why their prejudice should be reflected in law", he added.

Fine Gael also welcomed the bill which it said, reflected its own long-standing social justice agenda. However, the party’s justice spokesman, Charlie Flanagan, said it was disappointing that Minister Ahern has waited until the dying days of the Dáil session to publish a Bill which required careful analysis.

The Green Party said the Bill would be of practical benefit to same-sex couples in Ireland and marked a significant step forward. “Once the Bill goes through the Oireachtas and becomes law, many people in loving

relationships will have the option to have their commitment recognised by the State. It represents real and substantial progress,” said the party’s justice spokesman Ciarán Cuffe.

“We acknowledge that the bill is not marriage equality and will not satisfy everybody but we believe that legislating now for civil partnerships provides the best means of recognising and protecting same-sex relationships," he added.