Over 750 couples have availed of civil partnerships since their introduction in Ireland, 18 months ago.

Two years ago the Irish government passed civil partnership legislation, recognizing lesbian and gay relationships for the first time in Irish history. Civil partnership is a different legal union to that of civil marriage. However, civil partners enjoy most of the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple.

“Over the last 18 months, the current Dáil and Seanad have played a vital role in critically enhancing the provisions of civil partnerships, including the passing of the Finance Acts and the Citizenship Act, providing for equal treatment for civil partners” Kieran Rose, Chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said in a statement.

The first couple to avail of the new law was Dubliners Hugh Walsh and Barry Dignam, who became civil partners on April 4, 2011.

“We warmly congratulate the hundreds of lesbian and gay couples who have had civil partnerships.  Their happy celebrations, in every county in Ireland, have allowed family, friends and community to recognise these committed relationships.” he added.

Rose said the next step for Irish gay and lesbian couples is the introduction of civil marriage.

"Now is the time to move full Constitutional equality for lesbian and gay people by providing access to civil marriage. This is not a massive legislative leap; it is the next step building on the success of Civil Partnership legislation” concluded Rose.

Martina Malone who married Deirdre Judge, her partner of 16-years in a civil ceremony in Dublin last year said she no longer felt like a “second-class citizen”.

“I felt wonderful the next day. I just feel your relationship is not taken seriously unless it’s taken seriously by the State,” Malone told the Irish Times.

Trevor Boland and Nevan Birmingham