Posts Tagged ‘gay rights’

Irish Aid, Malawi and Gay Rights

January 5, 2010 3 comments

In 2007 Irish Aid—the international aid branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs—establish bilateral aid programmes with Malawi. This action was a follow-up to the commitment in the White Paper on Irish Aid to establish more partner countries in the African continent. At the moment, the programmes are conducted by means of the funding of Irish NGOs working in Malawi. Slightly out-of-date information on the Malawi programme is available here. Of course, Irish Aid has important agreements with a number of countries in Africa and carries out very valuable work in partnership with NGOs and governmental agencies, but reading this news story this morning brought Malawi to mind.

The story concerns a same-sex couple that was arrested following the first public (and, of course, symbolic as opposed to legally binding) same-sex wedding in the country. Today they were refused bail while the police investigation proceeded. If they are tried and prosecuted for homosexuality and sodomy—both of which are offences in Malawi—the couple could be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail. Notwithstanding the fact that homosexuality is a crime in Malawi, it is perhaps a little surprising to see this action being progressed by the police and courts as the government of Malawi, as part of its attempts to tackle HIV/AIDs in the country, has at times encouraged gay people to come out. Read more…

Civil Partnership Bill Second Stage Debate Highlights

December 7, 2009 4 comments

December 3  saw the second stage debate on the Civil Partnership Bill 2009, which will establish new schemes for the legal recognition of co-habiting couples and same-sex civil partnerships.  The Bill, in Minister Dermot Ahern’s words:

creates for the first time in Irish law a scheme under which a same sex couple can formally declare their allegiance to each other, register their partnership under new provisions in the Civil Registration Act 2004, commit themselves to a range of duties and responsibilities and at the same time be subject under new law to a series of protections in the course of their partnership in the event of a failure of either party to maintain the other and in the event of disputes between them as to ownership of property.

Such a couple will have additional protections in the event of violence between them in their home and new rights to succeed to the property of each other are also being established. In the event of a dissolution of the partnership, there will be considerable protections in place for a dependent partner, where necessary, by way of power to the court to order maintenance, to order financial relief by way of lump sum payment, to redistribute the ownership of property between them and to provide for transfer of rights between them under any pension scheme of which either is a member. Where a person dies after dissolution of a civil partnership, the court may order provision from the estate of the deceased for his or her surviving former partner…

…The Bill will substantially change the legal landscape for same-sex couples. As well as dealing with many vital and pressing legal difficulties experienced by same-sex couples, including maintenance, pension provision, protection of tenancies, their shared home and succession, it will also address very practical matters for same-sex partners. The Bill ensures they will be always entitled to visit if one is hospitalised, can be treated as next-of-kin and on the death of a partner are entitled to notify the death and arrange the funeral. Gay and lesbian organisations deal daily with problems about which most of us never have to think but which routinely arise for gay couples or a surviving partner. These can range from the inability to access State benefits like the carer’s allowance to care for a seriously ill partner, to a man’s additional grief that his partner is recorded on his death certificate as being single, an official denial of thirty years of life together….

[The Bill will also] provide protection in the law to long-term cohabiting couples and a safety net for an economically dependent cohabitant at the end of the relationship on break-up or on death.

On break-up, a financially dependent cohabitant may apply to court for maintenance from the other cohabitant, possibly for a pension adjustment order or a property adjustment order. If the relationship ends on death, a dependent cohabitant may apply to court for provision from the estate of the deceased if, as often happens, no provision is made for the surviving cohabitant. The courts will have a substantial discretion in considering such applications.

The Bill recognises the right and capacity of couples to freely choose the legal form their personal relationships will take and the legal consequences of this choice. Some couples will prefer to opt out of the redress scheme. We should respect their autonomy to choose not to regulate their relationships. The Bill addresses this by providing for the legal recognition of cohabitants’ agreements made by couples regulating their joint property or financial affairs. At the same time, it is important to achieve a balance between interfering in personal autonomy and protecting vulnerable persons. The Bill strikes that balance by providing that the courts in exceptional circumstances can vary or set aside a cohabitants’ agreement where its enforcement would cause serious injustice.

You can read our previous coverage of the Bill here. Although the Bill will have serious implications for tax and social welfare, these reforms will be part of separate future Bills.

Read more…

Civil Partnership Bill 2009…Countdown to the Debate

October 30, 2009 1 comment

ringsVia 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:

  1. 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
  2. Civil partners will not have the same range of protections as married couples in all circumstances, although there will be in most circumstances
  3. The rights of children to meaningful, legally-recognised and protected relationships to the people who parent them are not promoted by this Bill
  4. 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.