No exemption from Bill on grounds of beliefs - Ahern

Dermot Ahern told the Dáil second stage debate on the Civil Partnership Bill that it would be contrary to public policy to allow State officials to choose not to perform some of their official functions on the grounds that to do so would be contrary to their religious beliefs.

Dermot Ahern told the Dáil second stage debate on the Civil Partnership Bill that it would be contrary to public policy to allow State officials to choose not to perform some of their official functions on the grounds that to do so would be contrary to their religious beliefs.

Thu, Jan 28, 2010, 00:00

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Dermot Ahern has ruled out any provision for “freedom of conscience” exemptions for registrars who refuse to register the civil partnership of a same sex couple.

Mr Ahern said it would be “against public policy to permit State officials to choose not to perform certain of their official functions on the grounds that to do so would be contrary to their religious beliefs”.

Replying to the Dáil second stage debate on the Civil Partnership Bill, the Minister said the penalties for such a refusal were not new and already applied to the registration of marriages. He said the Bill “will put in place a legal regime that reflects the many forms of relationships in modern Irish society. It provides legal protection for cohabiting couples and essential State and societal affirmation for same-sex couples.”

Mr Ahern noted that “it tended to be matters not apparently addressed in the Bill that some deputies had difficulty with”.

Referring to the absence of provisions for children involved in a same-sex partnership, he said, “There is already an extensive body of law in relation to the welfare of children in areas such as guardianship, maintenance, access and custody, and many of those issues are faced by different persons, whether married or not.”

He added: “It is not intended that this Bill should develop principles that would inevitably have implications wider than those in relation to same-sex partners”.

Mr Ahern also referred to the absence of reference to siblings or others who lived together and said it would not be appropriate “to use this Bill for the purpose of establishing particular rights and obligations for a wider range of persons”. It would “be inappropriate to require siblings, family members or house sharers to pay maintenance to each other simply because the relationship or friendship has broken down”.

Giving the courts the power to make orders restricting or mandating the sale of property “would be an undue interference with constitutional property rights”.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanaganhad warned that the establishment of when cohabitation began could be problematic. The Minister said establishing the duration of cohabitation would not “be a particularly difficult matter, although there are certain necessary variations in a case where either of the cohabitants has been married to another person during the period of cohabitation”. He said, “the redress scheme in the Bill is not designed to redistribute the property and finances of a couple who split up. The scheme is designed to mitigate hardship where a relationship ends leaving one former cohabitant financially vulnerable.”

Leo Varadkar(FG, Dublin West) said the two-year figure for the coming into effect of co-habitation rights was a “very short period. The relationships of many people who were going out together during the boom and who were encouraged to buy a house together have broken down”.

He also said “where we do give tax concessions to couples, they should not be based on the fact that a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman are living together in a sexual relationship”. They should be given to the family unit and not because they are married, he said. The Bill goes to committee stage.