Seanad passes Partnership Bill
Legislation giving effect to civil partnerships passed all stages in the Seanad by 48 to four votes tonight.
The first civil registrations for same-sex couples are likely to take place next January following overwhelming approval of the enabling legislation by the Oireachtas tonight.
The Civil Partnership Bill Bill was approved by the Seanad by 48 votes to 4 at 6.30pm, having completed its passage though the Dáil last week.
The Bill will now be sent to President Mary McAleese for approval. The President can sign it into law or refer it to the Supreme Court after consultation with the Council of State, if she has concerns about its Constitutionality.
The vote came at the end of a marathon debate on the Bill, lasting 23 hours. It was prolonged by a small number of members, led by Senator Ronan Mullen, who objected to the legislation on moral and conscience grounds.
Mr Mullen and three dissident Fianna Fáil senators, Labhrás Ó Murchú, John Hanafin and Jim Walsh, voted against the substantive legislation.
All lost the Fianna Fáil whip this week when they signalled they would oppose the legislation.
There were no abstentions. While voting for the substantive Bill, the independent Senator Fergal Quinn, had also argued trenchantly against some of the sections during the course of the debate. Both Fine Gael and Labour senators supported the Bill.
In all, 77 amendments were tabled to the 200-section Bill with each amendment taking an average of two hours of debate on each. Mr Mullen was on his feet throughout the debate, speaking at great length on each amendment. He was accused of filibustering by proponents of the legislation but strenuously denied the charge.
At 4.30 pm, in a highly unusual development, the Leader of the Seanad Donie Cassidy announced that he was guillotining the debate at 6.30pm.
While the device is relatively commonplace in the Dáil, a guillotine has not been applied in the Seanad for at least two decades. It has been the practice of the Upper House to continue debating legislation through the night if necessary, as happened with the Nama legislation last autumn.
Mr Mullen claimed the debate had been “tainted” by the decision to curtail the debate.
The Green Party Minister for State Ciarán Cuffe, who instigated the move to introduce the legislation in 2007, welcomed its approval last night.
He said changes will need to be made in social welfare and tax laws to facilitate the change. He said those changes would most likely be made in December’s Budget.
“I would be happy if it was in place from January 1 next year. Without giving too many hostages to fortune, I am optimistic that the first civil registrations can take place from then,” he said.
The Bill will extend marriage-like benefits to gay and lesbian couples in the areas of property, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax.
Same-sex couples register their relationship before a registrar. The legislation also provides for the legal recognition of civil partnerships obtained outside the State. At present, cohabiting couples have few rights under family laws.
Among the objections voiced by Senators was the absence of a conscience clause for public servants to allow them opt out of the process. They also argued against the right to hire Church premises for celebrations of same-sex unions.
Richard Greene of conservative group Cóir was one of a small group who protested outside Leinster House. He said a referendum should have been held on the issue.
Fine Gael's equality spokesman in the Seanad, Senator Jerry Buttimer, said the passage of the Bill marked "a new dawn for modern Ireland" and a "coming of age" for the country.
"I am particularly proud to be an Irish citizen tonight," she said.
"As I said last night in the Seanad, the Civil Partnership Bill is for us all - our brothers, our sisters, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, grandchildren, neighbours and all the citizens of this State."