Partnership bill breaks substantial new ground
Jul 02, 2010 at 12:30 pm
Posted by Carl O'Brien on irishtimes.com:
"By any yardstick, the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill through the Oireachtas is a historic development.
"For the first time, it extends many of the benefits of marriage to lesbian and gay couples. In addition, it provides a legal safety net for tens of thousands of unmarried cohabiting couples (gay or straight) who, until now, have been largely invisible in the eyes of the law.
"For same-sex partners who choose to avail of a civil partnership, it is a milestone which campaigners never thought possible only a few years ago.
"On paper at least, Ireland during the 1980s and early 1990s had one of the worst legal regimes for lesbians and gays in western Europe. There was no recognition or protection of any kind, while homosexual acts were still a criminal offence.
"When the new legislation is enacted later this year, same-sex couples will have access to a range of marriage-like benefits in fields such as property, social welfare, pensions, succession, maintenance, enduring power of attorney, the creation of joint tenancies, pensions and tax.
"We must still wait for separate legislation governing aspects of social welfare and taxation – which are expected later this year or early in 2011 – but the Government commitment is clear: civil partners will be treated in the same way as married spouses under the tax and social welfare codes.
"The dissolution of civil partnerships will also mirror marriage in that applications to dissolve such unions may only be made once both parties have been living apart for four out of the previous five years, just as with divorce applications.
"That said, it is far from full equality. The civil partnership legislation does not represent full marriage equality, while it also ignores children.
"For gay couples who have children, there is no legal mechanism, for example, to establish a joint legal connection with their child. That fight for full equality is for another day.
"For both straight and gay cohabiting couples who choose not to avail of civil partnerships (in the case of same-sex couples) or marriage (in the case of heterosexuals), the legislation is also ground-breaking.
"Latest census figures show the number of cohabiting couples leapt from 31,300 in 1996 to 121,800 in 2006.
"They now account for one in 12 family units. And all indications are that the number will keep rising.
"Many unmarried couples living together for a long time often assume that they have a degree of legal protection. They don’t. Neither the length of a relationship nor the birth of a child results in any legal rights being attributed to cohabiting couples.
"Family lawyers regularly report the injustice and financial hardship suffered when the relationships of cohabiting couples break down, sometimes after decades and having had children together."
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