Posted by CahirO at 6/26/2009 6:51 PM EDT

Today in Dublin, just as most people were galloping out of their offices as the clocks struck five, a fairly momentous announcement came down the pike, without fanfare.

Republic of Ireland Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern finally published the long languishing Civil Partnership Bill, which gives Irish people in long-term heterosexual and homosexual relationships many of the rights of married couples.

Many of the rights, mind, but not all of the rights, so don’t be losing the run of yourselves, like. Heterosexuals can get civil partnerships, too. They’re just a newfangled way of recognizing that important relationships can exist between two people, often of the same sex, and that their rights should be acknowledged and protected in Irish law.

Now this could be seen a major development when you reflect that the Republic of Ireland only repealed the 19-century British sodomy laws in 1993. In some people’s view, that civil partnerships are being introduced at all represents major progress. And that’s fair enough.

But the other side of the coin is that is that a civil partnership is, face it, marriage lite. Terms and conditions apply, if you’re gay your results will definitely vary from the bride and groom down the road. Because civil partnerships simply do not come with all of the legal rights of marriage. Separate does not mean equal. If they were equal to marriage, they would be called marriage.

The new legislation provides a new range of previously denied rights including maintenance obligations, protection of a shared home and succession rights. There’s no question that these are important and significant steps forward. But if you're a gay parent, you're still out of luck. The Bill does not extend to giving families where the parents are a same-sex couple the same protections as families where the parents are married. How can that be justified? Who would even want to try and defend a decision that lamentable to a child or his/her parents? But that's where we're at.

The truth is the civil partnership bill creates a two-tired Ireland, where heterosexual relationships are everywhere, always more privileged then homosexual ones, afforded more legal protections, and consequently given greater social standing, simply because the two participants are of either sex.


“Balance is achieved by maintaining material distinctions between civil partnership and marriage, in particular between the rights attaching to both, while at the same time reflecting the equality rights protected by the constitution,” Ahern said.
The minister is referring, in opaque politico speech, to special place of the family enshrined in the Irish constitution. We cannot give gay people full marriage equality because the Irish constitution charges us to protect the family, the rationale goes. But apart from being deeply insulting, this is also legally insupportable. Protect the family from what? Don’t gay Irish people come from families (many of whom still love them dearly)?

The Irish proclamation acknowledges the special place of the family in Irish life, but it also insists that we cherish the children of the nation equally. Including our gay sons and daughters. And the truth is we’re not doing that yet. We’re splitting the difference and walking away.

So put the champagne on ice. The majority of Irish people, in opinion poll after opinion poll, support full marriage equality. They do know the difference.

And that day will come.