Lenihan rules out 'divisive' referendum on gay marriage
Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan yesterday ruled out the prospect of a referendum to allow for gay marriage, insisting that such a move would be divisive and unsuccessful.
Instead, he said equality could be achieved through a civil partnership scheme that would give legal recognition and protection to gay couples in long-term relationships.
Legislation providing for such partnerships is due to be published next year.
Mr Lenihan was speaking at the launch of the annual report of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen), a lobby group which is campaigning for gay marriage.
The Minister said he had listened carefully to those who argued for civil marriage for same-sex couples and understood the argument being put forward.
However, he said the advice of successive attorneys general was that gay marriage would not be constitutional .
"It is my strong belief, based on sound legal advice, that gay marriage would require constitutional change and in my view a referendum on this issue at this time would be divisive and unsuccessful and, furthermore, would jeopardise the progress we have made over the last 15 years," Mr Lenihan said.
"I believe equality for same-sex couples can be achieved through a diversity of legal arrangements and I am keen that we should now proceed to bring in a law that will give recognition and protection to same-sex couples involved in loving, stable relationships."
The new civil partnership Bill, due to be published by the end of next March, will seek to establish a civil partnership registration scheme for same-sex couples.
Kieran Rose, chairman of Glen, said he welcomed plans to progress civil partmerships, but pointed out that "marriage is the full equality option" which the organisation would continue to strive for.
He said the lack of legal recognition of relationships for same-sex couples had led to separation and loss and impacted daily on the gay community.
Mr Rose said the momentum in support of same-sex partnerships had grown over the last year, spurred on by the Labour Party's civil union Bill and the Government's plans to bring forward its own proposals next year.
He said that the organisation expected the legislation to be principled, equality-based and comprehensive.
Mr Rose also welcomed significant advances such as community safety strategies with the gardaí, resource guides for inclusion and safety in education, and the impact of the Taoiseach's strong statements on equality for lesbian and gay people.
The new civil partnership Bill will allow couples to formalise their relationships, undertake mutual rights and obligations, obtain legal protection for their relationships and avail of legal benefits and protection, according to Mr Lenihan.
It will also include a package of measures in relation to tax, pensions, benefits and property, he added.
As well as partnership, it will have to deal with the legal consequences of break-up.
For example, former civil partners may potentially be liable for maintenance and this may lead to property or pension adjustment orders.