Partnership rights in place for gay couples by end of year


THE CIVIL Partnership Bill giving statutory rights to gay and lesbian couples will be enacted and operational by the end of the year, the Government said yesterday.

The Bill was published yesterday by Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern.

It will allow same-sex couples to register their civil partnership and allow them to enjoy the same statutory protection as married couples across a wide range of areas. However, it stops short of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

The rights and obligations include the protection of a shared home, pension rights, the right to succession and equality with married couples of treatment under the tax and social welfare codes.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, thousands of couples in Ireland will be in a position to register their relationship from early next year.

The second major feature of the Bill is a new redress scheme for unmarried cohabiting opposite-sex couples, and for same-sex couples who have not registered.

The scheme will afford protection to a financially dependent person when a long-term relationship comes to an end. The cohabitation scheme covers a number of scenarios, including bereavement and the break-up of a relationship.

Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment John Gormley welcomed the Bill, calling it a major breakthrough for gay and lesbian couples in Irish society. He said it had involved many meetings with Mr Ahern and his officials, and had taken a lot of time because of its complex nature.“I believe it’s the start of a process and today is a major step forward in terms of equality.”

Mr Gormley said the party still favoured marriage rights for gay and lesbian people. He said any move in that direction was contingent on the outcome of the case that has been taken by Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland.

The party’s justice spokesman Ciarán Cuffe and party colleague Roderic O’Gorman said marriage equality remained party policy.

Announcing the Bill, Mr Ahern said it had been carefully framed to balance any potential conflict between constitutional guarantees to marriage and equality rights conferred under Article 40.1.

“The balance is achieved by maintaining material distinctions between the rights attaching to both, while at the same time reflecting equality rights,” he said.

The Bill will establish a scheme or registration of civil partnerships for same-sex couples by inserting a new part into the Civil Registration Act of 2004.

The provisions for a civil partnership will be similar to those for registration of a civil marriage, except that the ceremony will be optional, where it is mandatory in the case of marriage.

The Bill provides protection for a shared home and prevents the sale of the shared home by one partner without consent of the other. It will also allow a partner to apply for maintenance from the other partner. Under provisions for succession rights, the surviving partner will inherit the whole estate, or two-thirds if the deceased leaves children.

The sections dealing with cohabitants who have not married or registered affords rights to partners if they have lived together for at least three years, or two years if there is a child in the relationship. The Bill is designed to protect those left financially vulnerable when relationships end, either through break-up or death.

The Bill does not extend to giving families where the parents are a same-sex couple the same protections as families where the parents are married.