Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Many same-sex couples plan to register civil partnerships

DOZENS OF same-sex couples are making plans to apply to register their civil partnerships in the new year following the coming into force of the Civil Partnership Act.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has signed the commencement order allowing the law to come into force on January 1st.

The Act provides for the legal recognition of same-sex relationships and for granting certain protections to cohabiting couples when they break up through separation or death. 

It provides for similar rights for same-sex as for married couples in relation to property, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax. It also provides for the dissolution of such partnerships.

Also next year, the Supreme Court will consider an appeal seeking to establish the right of a lesbian couple to marry.

In 2006, Katherine Zappone and Ann-Louise Gilligan brought an unsuccessful High Court action seeking to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland. 

They appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, but the appeal has yet to be heard.

The Irish Times has learned that their submissions must be lodged within the next few weeks, and those of the State by the end of February, when a date for the hearing will be set.

That is likely to be within about six months.

Although their relationship will be recognised as a civil partnership next Saturday, it is understood that their fundamental point is that they should have the same right to marry as heterosexual couples do.

Three months’ notice must be given of a civil partnership, unless a special exemption is sought from a court, where it is likely to be granted where a partner is ill or other circumstances make the recognition of the partnership urgent.

Unless such exemptions are sought, the first ceremonies are likely to take place in April.
Ceremonies can take place in registry offices or other venues, such as hotels, approved by the Health Service Executive.

An information booklet on the registration process is available on the General Register Office’s website (www.groireland.ie).

One couple, Muriel Walls and Rosemarie Bryson, have set the date of May 21st next for their civil partnership ceremony. 

They set the date when the Act was passed last July, expecting it to be commenced by the end of this year.

Some same-sex couples will enjoy the privileges available under the Act from January 1st, as it provides for the recognition of legal arrangements from other jurisdictions. 

The Department of Justice has drawn up a list of 27 jurisdictions, including the UK and Canada, from which civil partnerships will be automatically recognised.

Countries whose civil unions are considered to have lesser benefits, such as France, are not included on the list.

There are thought to be a number of couples with existing marriages or civil partnerships obtained in Northern Ireland, Britain or Canada.

Kieran Rose of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said the move to commence the legislation earlier than expected was the “best Christmas present” many couples could have asked for.

“This is a historic civil rights reform and opens up a wide vista of opportunities, celebrations and more secure futures for lesbian and gay couples,” he said.