Civil partnership 'only a halfway house' for gay couples hoping to get married
Campaigners say gay marriage would enable complete equality of status
Apart from US president Barack Obama, one of the other big wins in the recent US election was the cause of gay rights, notable in the success of Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay person to be elected a member of the US Senate.
The electorate in three states – Maine, Maryland and Washington – also voted to legalise gay marriage, while a fourth state, Minnesota, voted not to implement a constitutional ban, although it still remains illegal there.
Here in the Republic, the Civil Partnership Bill of July 2010 has allowed more than 750 same-sex couples to formalise their relationships and attain something of a legal footing.
While civil partnership has gone some way towards transforming certain public attitudes, some gay rights campaigners argue that gay marriage would enable complete equality of status here in the Republic.
As recently as last month, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said: “The right of same-sex couples to marry is not a gay rights issue, it is a civil rights issue, and one that I support.”
Previously, Gilmore called gay marriage “the civil rights issue of our century”.
But while public and political opinion may be shifting, with several county and city councils across the State passing motions supporting gay marriage, for now civil partnership is the only option available to same-sex couples here who wish to commit to each other formally.
This puts some couples in a strange kind of legal limbo, especially where children are concerned.
Robyn O’Connell (26) and Denise Boyle (31) are planning their civil partnership in Cork next June. They have been together 4½ years, with Boyle proposing during a visit to Paris in May 2011.
The option of getting married abroad in a country that recognises gay marriage was not open to them because of the number of people they expect to invite to their ceremony (more than 200).
The couple plan to have children, so they are most concerned about this issue. “If we have kids, and if Robyn carries our children, then I have no legal rights,” says Boyle.
“That is the real downfall of civil partnership. God forbid, but if Robyn died and we had a child, then Robyn’s mother and father would have more rights in relation to that child than I do, even though the child could have lived with me for most of his or her life.”
O’Connell says that while she is supportive of civil partnership, it has left her wanting more in terms of equal footing in relation to marriage.
Despite Gilmore’s support for gay marriage, O’Connell does not expect things to change in the immediate future.