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Chief Justice launches guide to rights for gay couples

The guidelines point out rights and obligations attached to civil partnerships and protection for cohabiting couples.

Image: Lisa F. Young via Shutterstock

CHIEF JUSTICE OF Ireland, Susan Denham has launched the first comprehensive guide for lesbian and gay couples to inform them of their rights and responsibilities in civil partnerships.

The new guidelines were published by the Gay Lesbian Equality Network and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties on the Civil Partnership and Cohabitation Act.

These guides are a first to this new area of law and the new set of rights and responsibilities the law establishes for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

The guides point out the extensive rights and obligations attached to civil partnership in particular;

  • Civil partnership confers extensive recognition across a comprehensive range of areas such as succession, pensions, taxation, social welfare, citizenship, immigration, property, maintenance and remedies on dissolution.
  • The entitlements and obligations are in most cases equal or substantially equivalent to those of married couples.
  • Changes to equality legislation mean that civil partners must be treated the same as spouses in employment and in the provision of goods and services.

In relation to Cohabitation the guides outline important – though less extensive -protections for cohabitants – who number possibly as many as 143,000 couples;

  • The Acts creates, in particular, a vital safety-net for long-term qualified cohabitants who find themselves in a financially vulnerable position following relationship breakdown.
  • The Act equalized the position of same-sex and opposite-sex couples cohabiting outside of marriage and civil partnership in a variety of areas including social welfare, domestic violence, residential tenancies and wrongful death suits.

Commenting at the launch of the guides today, the Chief Justice said that as a judge of over 20 years she had experienced a great need for information and access to services in the area of family law.

She welcome the addition these publications make to meeting people’s needs, especially gay and lesbian couples.

Every family group , regardless of its make up, whether that be the nuclear family envisaged by 1970’s town planners;
the constitutional family as described and written into our basic law; the separated family; the single parent family, the large and extended Irish family, all experience similar – if not identical – moments of joy, enthusiasm, togetherness, hope, and the provision of mutual need and support.

Justice Denham said these families can likewise be challenged by weakness, violence, medical or legal difficulties, poverty or greater societal change.

“As with every other family grouping in society, we now have a series of protections and responsibilities for gay and lesbian couples – not just in relation to the state, but also relating to each other,” she added.

Today the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill passed all stages in both the Dáil and the Seanad allowing members of secular bodies to perform legal civil marriage.

Commenting on the bill today, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said it is clear that many Irish citizens “wish to celebrate their commitment to each other through a non-religious marriage ceremony”.

“Out of the 19,828 marriages held in 2011, a total of 5,769 were civil ceremonies, she said. “This represents 29 per cent of all marriages that year and compares to a figure of 6 per cent of marriages in 1996.”

“This Bill when enacted enhances the institution of marriage by acknowledging and legislating for people whose beliefs are not religious but rather secular, ethical and humanist and who wish to celebrate their wedding day in a manner that is most meaningful to them,” she added.

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