Since 1998, the issue of Domestic Partnership has been on the agenda for Young Fine Gael, whilst Fine Gael has been calling for legislation on the subject since 2001. In response to the government’s belated moves in the direction towards legislative action, Young Fine Gael has made a submission to the recently appointed working group on the subject, giving on views on the issue.
Young Fine Gael broadly supports Fine Gael’s policy document in this area. These proposals create the legal framework for same and opposite sex couples to create civil partnerships, with rights in a numbers spheres including taxation, next of kin, and inheritance. In addition to these areas, Young Fine Gael calls for Domestic Partnerships to be included in the scope of family adoptions, whereby registered partners would be able to, like a step-parent, adopt their partners children. We believe that these proposals will allow many loving, monogamous couples to have their relationship protected by the state, and in some form of security which has been previously lacking. We urge the government to legislate quickly in this area. Our proposals are outlined in full below.
Young Fine Gael Submission to the Working Group on Domestic Partnership established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
Young Fine Gael is fully committed to the creation of legal provision for a system of Domestic Partnership, which allows for committed, loving, monogamous couples to have their relationship recognised and protected, regardless of their sexual orientation. We strongly support a rapid legislative effort in this area, as it will help relieve hardship in key areas such as rights in relation to property, taxation, inheritance and the right to be treated as next of kin.
Primarily, these domestic partnerships would apply to same sex couples. However, there exists a large proportion of opposite sex couples who are in committed, loving, monogamous relationships, who for a variety of reason, cannot or do not avail of the facility of marriage. We believe these couples too, should be able to avail of Domestic Partnership provisions.
We view Domestic Partnership as being generally akin to civil marriage, albeit lacking the same level of constitutional regulation and protection. We therefore view the inclusion within the scope of Domestic Partnership legislation of relationships between certain groups of relatives as inappropriate. This is an area where measures do need to be taken to reflect the hardships endured by many people, however there inclusion within legislation on Domestic Partnerships seeks only to dilute and confuse the issue at hand.
The Working Group and Government Inaction
Whilst welcoming the progress offered by this working group towards state recognition of Domestic Partnership, Young Fine Gael must express its concerns at a number of aspects of this process. Firstly, we are concerned about the length of time it has taken for the process to reach this early stage of public consultation. The issue of civil partnership has been on the public agenda for a number of years at this stage, and the fact that the process has only reached this stage must be considered an indictment of this governments commitment to actually putting through legislation on civil partnerships. Secondly, the scope offered by the working group’s terms of reference must be considered deeply disappointing, and represent a limitation of the scope of choice and vision that the working group can offer. One must contrast the Minister for Justice’s seemingly positive rhetoric on this issue, with the strait-jacket that has been imposed on the working group.
We are doubtful of the current government’s commitment to achieving progress in this area, particularly this side of a general election. However, we believe that the general scope of public opinion and civil society is in favour of reform in this area and that as a result of this we believe that the momentum towards reform in this area is too strong to be ignored in the short to medium term.
Proposals for the Working Group
In general terms, Young Fine Gael is supportive of the Fine Gael policy document on Civil Partnership published in 2004.
“Under our plans, a framework- called a Civil Partnership Register – will be created to allow for two people of the same sex or of opposite sex to formally register their partnership with the State. Officers appointed by the Registrar-General will be empowered to conduct Civil Partnership ceremonies in Registrar Offices throughout the country.
The two individuals will be required to publicly declare in the presence of at least two witnesses that they fully understand the agreement they are entering into, the rights and responsibilities that come with this agreement and that they are entering a lifelong commitment to their prospective partner.
Civil Partnership will not be awarded to anyone who is married (and not yet divorced) or who has entered into another Civil Partnership (and has not yet been granted a dissolution of that Partnership).
Rights and Responsibilities
This “Civil Partnership” will award that “registered couple” a range of rights and responsibilities. These will allow that couple the protection of the law in a range of issues, providing them with a sound footing in a number of legal areas.
Should a partner die intestate, the surviving partner will be entitled to his/her entire estate, and will not be liable to inheritance tax. If the deceased partner has children (perhaps from a previous relationship) this automatic entitlement is reduced to two thirds. Should a partner die, leaving a will, the surviving partner will be entitled to at least one half of that estate regardless of what that will states. Again, the estate will not be liable to inheritance tax.
If the deceased partner has children (perhaps from a previous relationship) this automatic entitlement is reduced to one third.
Next of Kin
Civil Partnership will bestow next of kin status upon a registered partner. This will primarily affect the area of health care and ensure that a registered partner is entitled to full hospital visitation rights and is consulted in the areas of medical treatment as well as those of organ donation and funeral arrangements should his/her partner die.
Beneficiary of Pensions
In the event of the death of a registered partner, the surviving partner will be entitled to benefit from the pension provisions that have been made in the same way as are available to married couples under the same State or private scheme.
Both partners will have the right to share a last name should they wish. It will be up to the two individuals to decide what that name should be.
The right to residency in Ireland will automatically be conferred on a foreign registered partner of an Irish citizen.
The equivalent of the married tax-free allowance and married mortgage allowance will be conferred on registered couples.
Social Welfare Benefits
For the purposes of social welfare benefits, including medical cards and social housing, registered couples will be considered Adult Dependents and will be assessed according to their joint income.
Registered partners will be entitled to compassionate leave from employers in the event of serious illness or the death of their partner, along the lines granted to married couples.
Although it is almost universal practice that new homes are bought in the name of both partners, the Family Home Protection Act will be widened to include Registered Couples in order to avoid any chance of a ‘secret sale’ of the home of a registered couple that may be in the name of only one member of that couple. This is particularly relevant in cases where the home has been owned and lived in by one partner prior to the registering of that partnership.
Dissolution of a Civil Partnership
Should a registered couple wish to dissolve their civil partnership, a court-based process will apply. The appropriate financial arrangements for a registered couple seeking a dissolution will be drawn up as the Courts see fit.
No dissolution will be granted to a registered couple unless they have lived apart for a period not less than four of the previous five years.”
In addition to those policies, Young Fine Gael urges for the inclusion within the scope of Domestic Partnership and the amendment of the Adoption Acts, the ability for the other partner to adopt their partner’s children as currently is allowed to step-parents and relatives.
We would also encourage the working group to consider the possibilities of back-dating survivor pension rights for couples on the introduction for Domestic Partnerships. Although difficulties would exist within this, we note that such a scheme has been successfully introduced within the United Kingdom.
We differ from the Fine Gael policy document in our belief that the scope of Domestic Partnership to include relationship between relatives is best dealt with on other, more specified legislation.
Whilst the limitation imposed on the working group are unsatisfactory, Young Fine Gael does not believe those limitations actually impact on the possibilities of reform in this area, nor do these changes impact on the existing constitutional protections of marriage. The proposals contained within this submission, impact in no way on the institution of marriage, an institution which we fully support. We believe that the primary threat to the institution of marriage is a long period of debate, and hap-hazard and piece-meal legislation on the issue of Domestic Partnership. We believe that the most productive outcome from this process is comprehensive legislation on this issue, which takes into account the widest possible circumstances, and therefore prevents returns to amend the legislation in the future. If Domestic Partnership as proposed is implemented, those who avail of it, will deserve the right to have certainty govern the process and the rights associated with it.