Civil Partnership Bill 2009…Countdown to the Debate
Via Maman Poulet comes news that concerted lobbying is now commencing around the Civil Partnership Bill 2009, which the renewed Programme for Government commits to introducing and is due to be debated before Christmas. The Civil Partnership Bill 2009 will, when passed, introduce civil partnerships available to same-sex couples only and provide some (primarily property-based) protections for unmarried and un-civilly-partnered couples on the breakdown of their relationship. In addition, s. 5 of the Bill provides that the Minister for Justice may, by order, recognise a relationship from another jurisdiction as a civil partnership in Ireland is he is satisfied that the extra-jurisdictional relationship form has equivalent characteristics to a civil partnership. Foreign marriages between same-sex couples, where they exist, will therefore not be recognised as marriages which, to me at least, means that the Bill does not address the net point in the Zappone & Gilligan v Revenue Commissioners case (for recognition of a Canadian same-sex marriage).
Civil partnerships will not be the same as marriage and marriage will in fact remain the exclusive domain of opposite-sex couples. That said, there are a variety of situations in which the Bill when enacted will provide significant protections to civil partners in areas around taxation, ‘shared’ home, pensions and so on. What is notably absent from the Bill, however, is any provision relating to children. Civil partners will not be permitted to adopt as a couple. Neither will the non-biological parent of a child being parented by both civil partners be able to carry out a second-parent adoption or to have recognised legal connections to the child. Children do become relevant on the dissolution of a civil partnership as their needs can be taken into account in relation to, for example, property adjustment orders and so on.
A number of points needs to be made here from a human rights perspective:
- Civil partnerships are unlikely to answer equality concerns from the LGBT community as they are not equal in status (constitutional, legal and social) to marriage
- Civil partners will not have the same range of protections as married couples in all circumstances, although there will be in most circumstances
- The rights of children to meaningful, legally-recognised and protected relationships to the people who parent them are not promoted by this Bill
- The exclusion of opposite-sex couples from civil partnership discriminates against couples who want legal protections but who do not want to marry for ideological or other reasons
There are whispers that the Bill will be debated on November 2nd, but it does not appear on the Order Paper. However, the debates ought to commence relatively soon and we will follow and reflect on them here on HRinI. While there are plenty of difficulties with civil partnerships as proposed in terms of scope, substance and basic equality principles we must recognise that civil partnerships themselves do represent an important advancement for LGBT rights in Ireland and should be welcomed as a step in the right direction but certainly not the final destination.
On October 19th I spoke about civil partnerships in the UCC Philosoph in a debate co-sponsored by the UCC LGBT Soc. You can hear my speech here, although as the motion was worded (by the Society) as ‘This House would Reject Civil Partnerships in Favour of Civil Marriage’ my support for partnerships as a protective paradigm that can be used by vulnerable couples now does not perhaps come through as clearly as it would have done if the motion were differently worded.