For the first time in the history of the Irish State, gay couples will be able to avail of legally binding civil partnerships.

The Civil Partnership Bill was passed last night in the Irish parliament and is expected to be signed into law next autumn.

The bill will allow civil partners to avail of marriage like benefits such as, property, social welfare, maintenance, pension, tax and inheritance rights.

The legislation allows any gay couple over the age of 18 to register their relationship with a registar.

The courts will also be allowed to dissolve a relationship if the couple have been living apart for over two years pf the previous three years.

Cohabiting couples can also enjoy the benefits of a court administered redress scheme which will be made available to gay or straight couples that have been living together for five years or more. 

Cohabiting couples account for over 8% of all family units in Ireland.

Last night the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) welcomed the civil partnership bill for gay couples and recognized it as an “historic advance” towards full equality for gays.

However GLEN spokesman Brian Sheehan said that the legislation did not legally recognise gay couples with children as joint parents.

The Catholic Church condemned the legislation and said it undermined the institution of marriage.

Minister Dermot Ahern stated that the new legislation was careful not to undermine the constitutional position of marriage.

Civil partnerships became recognized in Ireland last Thursday