Ireland to Institute Same-Sex Civil Partnerships within the Year

Mon Jun 29, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

DUBLIN, June 29, 2009 ( - The government of Ireland announced on Friday that a bill giving statutory rights to homosexual partners will come into effect by the end of the year. The bill will insert new wording into the Civil Registration Act of 2004 that will create legal equivalency to marriage in nearly all but name.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said in a statement, "This bill provides legal protection for cohabiting couples and is an important step, particularly for same-sex couples, whose relationships have not previously been given legal recognition by the state."

Under the bill's provisions, a same-sex civil partnership will be allowed to be registered without a ceremony, whereas with a marriage a ceremony will still be required. Registered same-sex couples will enjoy the same statutory protections as married couples across a wide range of areas, including legal protections for a shared home, pensions, the right to succession and tax and social welfare benefits.

The Irish Times quotes Ahern saying the bill had been framed to "balance" any potential conflict between constitutional definition of marriage and the rights conferred under Article 40.1 of Ireland's Equality Act.

"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 move comes as Ireland prepares to fight another referendum on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, the replacement for the European Union's Constitution, that was defeated a year ago.

After the 2008 referendum, that stalled the process of the Treaty throughout the EU, polls found that Irish voters had rejected it partly out of fears that European law and juridical bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), would overrule and supersede national laws, particularly on life and family issues. Advocates for the "No" side warned that the Lisbon Treaty would force changes to the constitution that would violate Ireland's traditional Christian values.

Homosexualist activists in Ireland have been highly successful in using the EU's laws and courts to force changes to the Irish laws criminalizing homosexual activity. In 1988, Senator David Norris, founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, argued successfully to the ECHR that the country's laws were in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

In 1983, the same case had failed at the Irish Supreme Court that referred in its 3-2 ruling to the "Christian and democratic nature of the Irish State" and argued that criminalisation of homosexual acts served public health and the institution of marriage. Five years after the 1988 ruling from the European Court, parliament overturned the law.

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