Civil unions in Ireland

From Academic Kids

Civil union
Recognised nationwide in:
Denmark (1989)
Norway (1993)
Sweden (1995)
Greenland (1996)
Hungary (1996)
Iceland (1996)
Netherlands1 (1998)
France (1999)
South Africa (1999)
Belgium1 (2000)
Canada (federal)2 (2000)
Germany (2001)
Portugal (2001)
Finland (2002)
Liechtenstein (2002)
Croatia (2003)
Israel (2004)
Switzerland (federal) (2004)
Luxembourg (2004)
New Zealand (2005)
United Kingdom (2005)
Andorra (2005)
Switzerland (Approved 2005; Expected implemented 2007)
Recognised in some regions in:
Argentina (Buenos Aires, Rio Negro) (2003)
Australia (Tasmania) (2004)
Spain (Catalonia and 10 other regions) (1998)
Italy (Toscania, Umbria, Emilia Romagna) (2004)
Brazil (Rio Grande de Sul) (2004)
United States: CA (1999), CT (2005), DC (2002),

HI (1997), ME (2004), MD (2005), NJ (2004), VT (2000)

Other countries:
Czech Republic
1 - Country subsequently legalized same-sex marriage.
2 - Explicitly referred to as "civil unions" in Quebec and
Nova Scotia, common-law marriage extended to same-sex
partners nationwide.
See also
Same-sex marriage
Domestic partnership
Edit this box (

Ireland does not allow same sex marriage or civil unions and there is very little provision for unmarried cohabiting couples, whether homosexual or heterosexual. The situation is under review, and as of 2005 there are a number of activities under way designed to provide for legal recognition of such relationships. It is likely that this recognition will be in the form of registered partnerships rather than same-sex marriage.

The 2002 Irish census revealed cohabiting couples had almost doubled since 1996 to 77,000 families and this included 1,300 in same-sex relationships.


Current Legal Position

There have been a few test cases questioning the accepted legal non-recognition, all of which have been lost. Examples are those of a man who sought to use his partners free-travel rights, and of a man whose partner, the leaseholder of their residence, died.

In November 2004 a female couple (Gilligan/Zappone) were granted leave by the Irish High Court to pursue a claim to have their September 2003 Vancouver marriage recognised for the filing of joint tax returns in Ireland. Justice McKechnie said that the case was significant and would embrace far-reaching issues touching many aspects of society. Lead lawyer, Gerard Hogan, argued that neither the 1937 Irish constitution nor more recent tax laws specifically define marriage as between one man and one woman. Following a delay, the Government announced in April 2005 that it would contest the case on the basis of advice from the Attorney General that it would prevail. The case is expected to be heard in late 2005 or 2006.

In March 2004 controversy surrounded a definition of 'spouse' when it was claimed that the government were seeking to exclude non-married partners from Social welfare legislation.

Public Debate

Since the decriminalization of homosexual sex in 1993, there have been no high-profile Gay-Rights campaigns in Ireland. However Irish media has increasingly covered international developments in the same-sex partnerships issue, particularly since 2001. There has been coverage of unsuccessful legal cases taken by gay Irish couples. Media have also reported surrogate parenthood, extra-legal same-sex unions, blessings and the foreign partnerships of Irish politicians.

Irish Legislators have commented publicly in recent years, demonstrating some awareness of the issues involved and tentatively suggesting legislation, but some also referring to Catholic pronouncements. There has been no significant public reaction, with a 2005 online poll showing most respondents seeing some recognition as acceptable and inevitable. Some public and religious figures, including bishops in the Catholic Church and in the Church of Ireland, have also proposed legal recognition, but in a form different to marriage.

During the May 2002 General Election campaign, only the Green Party manifesto explicity referred to the rights of gay couples. In June 2004, Fine Gael launched Partnership registration proposals and in November 2004, in reaction to the legal challenge on tax issues Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern said "Couples want equality and we should try to deal with some of those issues" but added that moves to legalise gay marriage are "a long way off". Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell of the Progressive Democrats said that Ireland should pursue civil partnerships.

Recent introduction of civil partnerships legislation in the United Kingdom has also eased the path to change in Ireland

In response to this, momentum for change has also been slowly building in various statutory bodies.

Equality Authority and NESC

In May 2002 the Equality Authority, on its own initiative, issued its report on Equality for Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals which highlighted the lack of recognition for same-sex couples in Irish law. In a departure from the norm the report recommended legislative changes to give legal recognition to same-sex couples. These were proposed in the context of providing gay couples equality with married couples in the areas of adoption, inheritance and taxation to eliminate discrimination. It also published in Jan 2001 a report on Same-sex partnerships in Ireland which it had commissioned to inform it's own debate.

In addition the National Economic and Social Forum (NESC) is said by 2003 to have recommended partnership recognition.

Law Reform Commission

In December 2000, as part of the Second Program of Law Reform, the Government requested the Law Reform Commission of Ireland to examine the Rights and Duties of co-habitees. In April 2004, the commission published a consultation paper with provisional recommendations on legal issues related to cohabiting relationships. The report included an analysis of issues for same-sex couples. The deadline for submissions was September 2004 and a final report is planned, but has not been issued as of February 2005.

The proposals call for legal recognition of 'qualifying' cohabiting relationships. Qualifying Cohabitees were defined as unmarried same-sex or opposite-sex cohabiting couples in a 'marriage-like' relationships of 2 years (or 3 years in some cases), to be determined by the courts. Thus, they would be akin to the civil unions as provided in some other states for same-sex couples.

The commission reviewed such areas as property, succession, maintenance, pensions, social welfare and tax and recommended some changes in the law to provide rights for qualifying co-habitees. These rights would be applied by the court on application as distinct from the 'automatic' rights of legal marriage. The commission took care not to propose anything which would equate co-habitation with marriage as it might violate the constitutional protection of the family.

The paper also included recommendations on other steps that cohabiting couples should take such writing wills, defining power of attorney etc.

The Constitutional Review

The All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution has been conducting a review of the entire constitution since its establishment in December 2002. In November 2004 it invited submissions on the Articles related to the family. It stated that it was examining these Articles to ascertain the extent to which they are serving the good of individuals and the community, with a view to deciding whether changes in them would bring about a greater balance between the two. Among the issues they raised were the definition of the family and the rights of gay couples to marry.

The relevant provisions are Articles 41, 42 and 40.3

Article 41
1 The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.

The committee has been having hearings and is due to report in July 2005. In March 2005, it was reported that they had received an unexpectedly large volume of submissions with 60% being opposed to any changes.

The Norris Bill, 2004

In 2003 Independent Senator David Norris commenced work with a small team to prepare legislation for the recognition of unmarried partnerships. As a result, the Senator introduced a private members bill in December 2004 in the Seanad (Senate) (Text) ( Introduction of a bill in the Seanad is an unusual step, last taken some 50 years earlier. In the 1970's and 1980's Senator Norris was central to the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and its case in the European Court of Human Rights.

The second-stage debate took place on 16 February 2005 (Transcript) ( and included contributions from Justice Minister McDowell. While there was little controversy on the content of the bill itself, rancour surrounded a Government amendment designed to postpone a vote. The delay was to allow for input and advices from the Law Reform Commission, the High court Case on Recognition of the Canadian Marriage and the Constitutional Review committee. After some discussion it was agreed to hold a debate on the bill but adjourn a vote indefinitely.

The majority of Senators who spoke in the two-hour debate supported the principles behind the bill and complimented Senator Norris on his bill. Some expressed reservations regarding the Constitutional protection of the family. According to Senator Norris, the Bill was initiated "to protect the rights of adults who find themselves in relationships outside the conventional bonds of marriage" and to meet the requirements of those who are making arrangements in their personal lies outside the formalities of marriage and who also need to be "supported in the creation of mature stable relationships." The bill is to cover both same-sex and opposite-sex cohabiting couples. Norris also said he had done substantial research in order to achieve consensus on a moderate bill which took on board stated reservations.

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