As expected, yesterday Ireland’s Seanad rubber-stamped the nation’s lower chamber and approved its civil unions bill 48-4.
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.
The first civil unions will occur after January 1st.