Religious solemnisers will not be obliged to perform same-sex marriage

Government publishes legislation to be enacted in event of referendum Yes vote

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald who has drafted the general scheme of the Marriage Bill (2015). Photograph: Collins

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald who has drafted the general scheme of the Marriage Bill (2015). Photograph: Collins

 

Priests or any other religious solemnisers will not be obliged to perform same-sex marriages under legislation to be enacted in the event that next May’s referendum is passed.

The general scheme of the Marriage Bill (2015), drafted by the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, also provides for the dissolution of civil partnerships in cases where same-sex couples opt to marry.

The draft legislation states that the measures will not oblige any solemniser to perform a ceremony that is not recognised by their religious body.

In all, the new legislation would result in changes to at least 11 other laws - such as army pensions, family law and other matters - by changing references to “husbands and wives” to “spouses”.

Separate legislation is likely to be passed in advance of the vote, which aims to modernise family law in areas such as guardianship, access, custody, maintenance and the rights of unmarried fathers. Laws regulating surrogacy are to be addressed in separate legislation.

The Government has rejected claims that it is rushing in these new laws to separate them from a potentially contentious debate on the same-sex marriage referendum.

The debate over the same-sex marriage referendum, due to be held on May 22nd, is gathering momentum with the formal launch of a number of campaigns in recent days.

Much of the debate to date has focused on the definition of the family, as well as the status of children.

The wording of the planned referendum, published earlier this year, seeks to amend the Constitution by inserting a new section.

It states: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Many of those advocating a Yes vote emphasise that same-sex marriage would be considered equal under the Constitution to heterosexual marriage.

But those campaigning for a No vote contend it would lead to a change whereby legal and constitutional protection for a child’s rights to a father and mother would be removed.