The Minister for Justice has said he will back a change in the law so that same sex partnerships are recognised.

Responding to a report commissioned by the Human Rights Commission, which recommends new laws, Michael McDowell said he would not favour full civil marriages to same sex couples.

The minister said he had spoken to senior church leaders about the matter. Minister McDowell said he was hopeful that the route being taken by Government in addressing the issue would be acceptable to the Catholic Church.

Mr McDowell said he believed that people generally had moved on from conservative positions of the past, and they now feel same sex couples are entitled to be treated as equals.

Addressing claims in the study that Irish laws could be in breach of international human rights standards because they do not recognise same-sex unions and discriminate against same sex couples, the minister said international law gives the State latitude to arrive at a solution suitable to its circumstances.

It is not a case, he said, of international lawyers telling Irish people what to do.

The minister also expressed his view that most gay people here do not want marriage but instead want some recognition of their relationship, which affords them certain basic rights.

He also pointed out that when it comes to relationships, people cannot always have rights without having duties towards each other.

Mr McDowell said addressing the problem by changing the constitution rather than changing legislation, would be a case of putting the cart before the horse.

The minister said the Department of Justice working group on civil partnerships, chaired by Anne Colley, is continuing to examine the issue, and will report in October.


The report recommended that a complete civil partnership scheme be introduced to cater for same sex and opposite sex couples in Ireland.

Given that civil partnership of couples of the same sex has been introduced in Northern Ireland, the report argues that such partnerships should also be introduced in the Republic to fulfil the country's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

According to the study, entitled The Rights of De Facto Couples, the laws in this country are disproportionately skewed in favour of married couples.

It finds that because same sex couples cannot marry, the law in Ireland indirectly discriminates against them.

The report also found that non-married couples in Ireland have very few rights in case of a relationship breakdown.

The European Convention on Human Rights requires that member states respect the rights of de facto couples, which are described as two adults in non-married relationships and which include same sex couples.

In 2002, the census showed that more than 77,000 couples were cohabiting outside of marriage, which represents more than 8% of all family units in Ireland. 

GLEN disappointment

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) expressed disappointment at the report's failure to come out in support of civil marriage as a human right.

GLEN said the introduction of full civil marriage for same-sex couples would be in keeping with best practice internationally.