THE GOVERNMENT has been advised that it would be illegal to offer civil partnership to heterosexual couples.
Justice minister Alan Shatter has said the government’s legal advice is that it would be a breach of the constitution to extend some of the rights and obligations of marriage to people who have the option to avail of it, but choose not to.
Shatter said this was because the constitution grants a special status to marriage, which the State is required to “guard with special care”.
The Civil Partnership Act 2010, which created the system of same-sex civil partnership, includes an explicit clause that forbids couples of the opposite sex from entering a civil partnership.
“I have no plans to amend this,” Shatter said in response to a written Dáil question from Fine Gael backbencher Patrick O’Donovan.
“In any case it would be constitutionally impermissible to do so,” he added, explaining:
[T]he legal advice available to the Government is that making a relationship with many of the rights and obligations of marriage available to opposite sex couples, who have the option of marriage, would violate the constitutional protection for the institution of marriage.
In other words, any move which gave marriage-style benefits and obligations to couples – who had the option of getting married but chose not to, for whatever reason – would be a violation of the State’s duty.
Couples of the opposite sex already have the right to enter a civil marriage without having to also enter into a parallel religious marriage.
The State has always maintained the attitude that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, as the basis “on which the family is founded”. The family, in turn, is recognised in the constitution as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of society”.
The Constitutional Convention is due to discuss potential changes to the constitution, formally expanding the definition of marriage so that it can extend to same-sex couples, at a meeting next month.