Mixed reaction to Civil Partnership Bill


MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern has told Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators concerned about the Civil Partnership Bill that he is ruling out a “freedom of conscience” amendment.

Almost 30 TDs and Senators met Mr Ahern yesterday morning ahead of his introduction of the Bill in the Dáil last night.

The meeting was organised by Sean Connick, chairman of Fianna Fáil’s justice policy committee. He said that, of about 20 speakers, there was a “50/50 mix” between those who were complimentary of the Bill and those who were concerned about aspects of it.

The possibility of a “freedom of conscience” amendment had been raised at a Fianna Fáil meeting in October, when Iona Institute director David Quinn suggested adding a provision to the Bill to allow people to opt out of “facilitating” same-sex civil unions on conscience grounds.

He claimed photographers and parish halls, for example, could be open to legal action if they declined to be involved in ceremonies or receptions once the law came into force.

A number of Fianna Fáil representatives are understood to have been in favour of such an amendment.

However, Mr Connick said Mr Ahern “ruled it out on the grounds that he felt we’ve enough protection from equality measures already in existence”.

Another observer said Mr Ahern explained that such an amendment “would not be good law”.

The Bill creates a new status relationship for same-sex couples who choose to register their relationship, conferring a large range of rights and obligations.

Registered civil partnership will not be available to opposite-sex couples as they have the option of marrying.

The Bill also, separately, establishes a redress scheme for cohabitants, whether opposite-sex or same-sex. This is activated only on termination of the relationship whether by break-up or bereavement.

Equality groups have given a mixed reaction to the introduction of the Bill, with some saying it was a welcome development, while others claimed the legislation did not go far enough.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said the Bill would resolve many of the immediate and pressing issues faced by lesbian and gay couples, and offered almost the full gamut of marriage protections and rights.

However, the equality network described as “critical” the omission in the Bill of legal support and recognition of children parented by same-sex couples, and urged the Government to address this gap as the Bill advances through the Oireachtas.

The Equality Authority said the legislation was a significant and groundbreaking step, but that full equality for gay couples must remain the ultimate goal.

It said the children of same-sex couples would continue to face questions on issues such as inheritance, guardianship and access, and would remain disadvantaged.

MarriagEquaility said it had written to Taoiseach Brian Cowen to ask that the Bill be upgraded to give equal civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Union of Students in Ireland said implementation of the Bill would serve to enshrine in law the second-class citizenship of lesbian, gay and transgendered people.