Young Fine Gael’s Submission to the Working Group on Domestic Partnerships

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.

Introduction
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.
Succession
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.
Last Name
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.
Residency
The right to residency in Ireland will automatically be conferred on a foreign registered partner of an Irish citizen.
Tax
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.
Workplace Entitlements
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.
Property
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.

Conclusion
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.

10,000 Gay Irish Citizens Denied Right To Marry

2 May 2006

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has welcomed the publication of a new study revealing the number of gays and lesbians who have chosen to marry in countries that uphold marriage equality.

Marriage equality is enshrined in the laws of the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and the US state of Massachusetts, where the constitution forbids the creation of second-class citizens.

In the first 20 months after equality was legalised in Massachusetts, 14,682 residents wed a partner of the same sex. Ireland’s population is one-third smaller than Massachusetts’ – suggesting that the number of Irish citizens who would marry in Ireland if they weren’t banned from doing so could exceed 10,000.

USI gay and lesbian spokesperson Steven Conlon said: “It is possible that over 10,000 gay Irish citizens would take advantage of a change in the law to get married by 2008. The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy found that in Massachusetts, which is very similar to Ireland but with a larger population (6 million), almost 15,000 residents married a partner of the same sex during the first 20 months of marriage equality.

“The right to marry the person one chooses is a civil right, but a civil right that is being denied to literally thousands or Irish citizens. By refusing to legislate for marriage equality, the Irish Government is creating a category of second-class citizens.

“So long as the Government of Ireland refuses to join the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Massachusetts in legislating for marriage equality, the Union of Students in Ireland will oppose and condemn it for denying civil rights to so many. History will judge the Irish people on how well we lead by moral example, so we must not be afraid to stand alongside the countries standing up for marriage equality.”

For more information, contact:
Steven Conlon lgbt@usi.ie
Tony McDonnell president@usi.ie

Link to the Study mentioned (PDF) Document

Working Group set up on Domestic Partnerships

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

An Roinn Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí

SUBMISSIONS SOUGHT

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS ON “DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP”

A Working Group on Domestic Partnership has been established by the

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The Working Group is to prepare an Options Paper on Domestic Partnership

for presentation to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by

October 2006, within the following terms of reference:

• To consider the categories of partnerships and relationships outside of

marriage to which legal effect and recognition might be accorded, consistent

with Constitutional provisions, and

• To identify options as to how and to what extent legal recognition could be

given to those alternative forms of partnership, including partnerships entered

into outside the State.

The Group is to take into account models in place in other countries.

The Working Group is now calling for submissions from any interested

person, organisation or group to provide input into its work based on the

terms of reference.

The deadline for receipt of submissions is Friday 28 April 2006.

All submissions received will be subject to the provisions of the Freedom of

Information Act, 1997, as amended.

Your submission can be forwarded to:

Working Group on Domestic Partnership

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Bishop’s Square

Redmond’s Hill

Dublin 2

Tel: (01) 4790200

Or e-mailed to: Domesticpartnership@justice.ie

Submission to Domestic Partnership Working Group

Submission from Stephen Spillane,
Finance Officer,
University College Cork, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Society
Working Group Member,
Union of Students of Ireland, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Campaign

In today’s society nothing is or should be taking for granted. People have to look for security in their lives at all times.

When it comes to domestic partnerships, security is lacking, if something happens to one of the partners, they have no rights to each others property even if it is held jointly, for a example joint ownership of a house, unless it is specified in the will. They also have no legal rights allowing to them access to pension funds or welfare benefits.

I believe that the domestic partnership working group should consider adopting a similar line to that adopted in the UK along the lines of a civil union which will guarantee security for both partners no matter what sex or orientation they may be.

I realise that marriage is protected by the constitution and that nothing that this proposed legislation creates cannot mirror or challenge the institution of marriage in any way. This is why the civil unions, or domestic partnerships, should only cover legal rights, access to welfare benefits, pensions, inheritance rights and taxation issues.

In the case of marriages/civil unions in other jurisdictions, the state should recognise these unions as a domestic partnership and give them the same entitlements under the legislation as those who register their partnerships in the Republic of Ireland.

At the moment the Republic of Ireland is in breach of the equality clauses of the Good Friday Agreement, as registered same sex couples in Northern Ireland have more rights and entitlements then their counterparts here in the Republic. This is a terrible situation for a country that prides itself on its respect for Human Rights and a proponent of increasing these rights globally.

God created us all equally so let us all be treated equally by the state. This is core to what this legislation should do; giving security, rights and more importantly equality to same sex couples on legal issues which are paramount to most couples.

The core of this legislation is that it should aim to create a system where all couples should be treated equally by the law; this does not involve recognition by the Roman Catholic Church, or any other church unless they wish to. This legislation should only apply to Government Agencies, Government Bodies and the Courts recognising these partnerships within the limits imposed by the constitution with respect to the institution of Marriage.

Same-sex Marriage in Ireland?


Will it ever happen?

In recent years same-sex marriages and civil unions have become the norm in many jurisdictions around the world. Within Europe nearly every country has discussed laws dealing with same-sex marriage and civil unions. Belgium, Holland and now Spain all allow same-sex marriages while many other countries allow civil unions or give gay couples some rights. These countries are very varied from France, the UK (next December) to the Scandinavian countries.

In Ireland it is a very different story. Many people are opposed to civil unions as they see it as an attack on the institution of marriage which is protected by the constitution. These groups are mainly very catholic groups who still believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Independent Senator David Norris did introduce a Civil Partnership Bill, as a private members bill, which was passed by Séanad Eireann (upper house of Parliament), but has been suspended by the Government.

Many Irish political parties claim to support gay rights including civil unions. Fine Gael at the last election did include a proposal on civil unions in their manifesto. Fine Gale is one the only openly gay councillor with Peter Kelly on Cork County Council.

The Labour Party is the only political party in Ireland that has an LGBT wing of the party. This gives LGBT Labour Party members a better voice within the party. Sinn Fein to have had proposals for civil unions but with Sinn Fein being republican and ultra Catholic many people are dubious over their efforts to gain votes of the LGBT electorate.

Fianna Fail are very much still under the thumb of the Bishops when it comes to issues of ‘morality’. Many members of Fianna Fail may support civil unions or domestic partnership rights but the party leadership are very wary of upsetting the Catholic Church.

The prospects of Ireland introducing civil unions or domestic partnerships in the near future and very slim, but maybe sometime in the future gay couples will be given rights that bring them closer to the rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.