Couple happy to play part in Ireland's 'big step'


WHEN BARRY Dignam and Hugh Walsh first met almost 20 years ago, homosexuality was still illegal; neither man envisaged then a time where their relationship would be legally recognised by the Irish State.

Yet today, 17 years after they started going out, they will become the public face of civil partnership in Ireland as one of the first couples to be joined under legislation which came into effect on January 1st.

“We feel a certain amount of responsibility . . . that this is a big step which Ireland is taking and that we’re going to be a part of that,” Mr Dignam said yesterday on the eve of the couple’s civil partnership ceremony, which is to take place in a Dublin registry office this afternoon.

Theirs is not the first civil partnership to take place here – six civil partnerships have already been registered in the State arising from court-granted exemptions to the usual three-month notice which couples must give to the General Registrar Office.

Mr Dignam admitted that when the couple originally found out that they were to be the first gay couple who were to avail of the new regime without first seeking an exemption to do so, they did consider postponing the ceremony given the media attention that would inevitably follow.

“We did have an opportunity to move the date but we felt that we would have been cheating [gay] people who had been through an awful lot of hardship – those who had been ridiculed and even jailed in the past,” he said.

Although both Mr Dignam and Mr Walsh are in favour of full gay marriage rights, they hope that this too may happen in time.

“This change is a pretty sizeable change although it is a pity it’s not full marriage,” he said, adding that there are those in the gay community who believe strongly that civil partnership does not go far enough.

“They are right as well. Anything which is not equality is not equal,” he said, but added that he does not believe, like some, that civil partnership should be boycotted and would see himself as an incrementalist.

Mr Dignam said that, in general, Irish people have been supportive of their decision to enter into a civil partnership.

As for the rest, he hopes that “soon the people throwing stones will simply run out of targets”. Up to April 1st the number of couples who had given notice of intention to enter a civil partnership had reached 267 according to the Department of Social Protection.

Although there are no official figures as to the number of civil partnerships and marriages registered outside the State, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) estimates that there could be up to 1,000 same-sex relationships from 27 overseas jurisdictions which received recognition in Ireland as and from January 13th, 2011.