Labour publishes same-sex Bill


Same-sex couples would be allowed to enter civil unions, giving them exactly the same rights as heterosexual couples, under a Bill published by the Labour Party today.

The Civil Unions Bill creates what the party described as a "status relationship" equivalent to marriage for people who cannot, under the current constitutional understanding, marry each other.

We want the Dáil itself to put in place this very robust legislative provision we believe will give a legal acknowledgement and status to same-sex unions
Brendan Howlin

The party's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) section was influential in preparing the Bill, in consultation with legal advisers.

Labour's justice spokesman Brendan Howlin, who moved the Bill in the Dáil, said he believed it marked a "significant watershed" in the State's legislative and social history.

He said one of the reasons Labour has tabled the Bill was because the Government had shown no commitment to the introduction of such legislation.

"In essence, what we have sought to do in this bill is to mirror the normal understanding of marriage for same-sex couples. The party...has been always at the forefront in terms of social justice and social provision. The issue of equality is one of our prime issues. It anchors the way we approach all these matters."

Mr Howlin said the party was determined as far as possible, given that the constitutional definition of marriage was not available to it, to mirror the "normal understanding of marriage" in the Bill.

"We want the Dáil itself to put in place this very robust legislative provision we believe will give a legal acknowledgement and status to same-sex unions."

The Bill deals with the benefits, protections and responsibilities of parties involved in a civil union and also covers areas such as adoption by same-sex couples.

"We have created a very important new legal framework, which is to actually lay down the criteria for adoption, which is entirely child-centred," Mr Howlin said.

"So the issue is not whether we are giving categories of people the right to adopt, because nobody has the right to adopt.

"What we are saying is that children have the right to be in the best circumstances that [they] can be in and in some circumstances that will be with a gay couple, particularly where one of those individuals is the natural parent of that child."

Mr Howlin said it seemed clear the Government's strategy on the issue was to "engage in a further lengthy period of consultation", thus ensuring the issue is "safely kicked into touch" until after the general election.

"I believe that the time for consultation is over and the time for decision making is approaching. I am also confident that Irish society has matured and attitudes changed sufficiently to the point where the majority of Irish people would now have no problem with legislation that would provide same-sex couples with the same rights and duties that are generally available to married couples."

Party leader Pat Rabbitte said the Bill was an important milestone on the road to full equality for gay and lesbian people and he urged TDs of all parties to support it.

"Those who choose to enter into a civil union would enjoy vital legal rights which married couples take for granted, in areas such as inheritance and taxation. The Bill would bring to end many of the routine forms of institutionalised discrimination that exist in our society and which impinge on in a very real way on people's lives."

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) welcomed today's Bill as a "major step forward".

Chair of Glen, Kieran Rose, said it was clear there would be "overwhelming support" for such a Bill.

"The recent Lansdowne Market Research poll showed that 51 per cent of Irish people were in favour of full civil marriage for same-sex couples and a further 33 per cent were in favour of civil partnership: 84 per cent of people are in favour of legal recognition," he said.

Labour hopes to have the Bill debated in the Dáil early in the New Year.