Government to legislate for civil partnerships


The Government tonight pledged to introduce legislation recognising same sex unions over the coming months as it moved to oppose a Labour Party proposal on the issue.

Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan said he would publish an outline of his legislation by March 30th and vowed it would become law during the lifetime of the current Government.

"The Government has asked me to prepare a Bill which will provide for the registration of civil partnerships of same sex couples," Mr Lenihan said. "It will also provide protection for other relationships which lie outside marriage but which may be heterosexual or same sex."

Currently gay and lesbian couples cannot marry each other under Irish law and are therefore ineligible for the legal benefits that apply to heterosexual married couples. Legislation for civil partnerships during the lifetime of the Coalition was promised in the Programme for Government.

The Government's report will draw on the Colley Option Paper and the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission on the rights of cohabitants. It is intended to establish a statutory mechanism for the registration of same-sex partnerships, set out duties and responsibilities of registered partners and the consequences of a separation or termination of these partnerships.

Green Party justice spokesman Ciarán Cuffe said the Government proposal would give cohabiting gay and lesbian couples, who register their relationship with a new agency, the same rights under the law as heterosexual couples. "This is a major step forward in Irish equality legislation," he said.

A Department of Justice spokesman told ireland.comthe Attorney General had advised the Government that Labour's Civil Unions bill, which is being debated in the Dáil tonight and tomorrow, is unconstitutional. However, he declined to explain why.

The spokesman said the Government had now decided, ahead of this evening's Dáil debate, to "proceed with its own legislation" and move to legislate for civil partnerships to include co-habiting brothers and sisters.

Labour today re-tabled its Civil Union Bill which was first introduced in February but was deferred by the Government and later fell with the dissolution of the 29th Dail. Under Labour's motion, same-sex couples could have a relationship status equal to marriage.

The Bill's proposer, Labour's law reform spokesman Brendan Howlin tonight accused the Government of failing in its responsibilities and claimed the Green Party, which supported the Labour motion in February, had forced its Coalition partners' hand.

"The Government's legislation could sit before the Dail for five or six years without getting becoming law," the Wexford TD said. "It is a vague promise that the Greens have got tonight and they are abandoning their principles to do that. This is a matter of whether you believe in equality or not.

"People who have same sex orientation and are in loving relationships should be entitled to have that recognised by the state. It is a very straightforward matter to legislate for that."

Mr Howlin said the amendment being tabled by the Government for this evening's debate sought to "kill the Civil Unions bill stone dead".

Mr Cuffe said Green Party TDs would be voting against Labour's proposal "as the new legislation will better address the many legal complexities involved in this issue".

Fine Gael said today it supported Labour's bill and called on the Government to "end years of injustice and discrimination". The party's justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said civil unions were an equality issue and a human rights issue. "Registration of civil unions will provide legal security and a degree of fairness before the law in areas where injustice and discrimination now dominate."

Additonal reporting: PA