On Wednesday last, the Cabinet (including Green Party Ministers) made a historic decision and gave the go ahead for legislation to be drafted to provide for civil partnerships, on the basis of the recommendations contained in the Colley Report. The outline of this legislation will be seen before the end of March next year.

There’s been a lot of controversy over the last few days about the Green Party and our position on same-sex marriage/civil partnerships etc. I’m going to try and clear up some of the spin that’s been going around.

– In 2006, the Green Party passed a Marriage & Partnership Rights Policy, which I helped draft. It stated our belief full access to civil marriage for same-sex couples was the only way of achieving full equality. This continues to be Green Party policy – full equality will only be achieved when same-sex couples are allowed civil marriage.

– In 2007, we supported the Labour Party Civil Unions Bill. During the debate, our spokesperson, Ciaran Cuffe made the point that while we were supportive of the bill, we did not see the Labour Party proposals on civil unions as going far enough and that we supported full access to same-sex marriage. At the time, the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, spoke about creating protections for same-sex couples, but also for non-married heterosexual couples and indeed, for those living together in non-sexual relationships – two spinster brothers etc.

– McDowell set up a body of experts to look at the options for dealing with same-sex relationships – the Colley Group. In its report, the Colley Group made a number of recommendations including forms of full and partial civil partnership for same-sex couples.

– After the General Election, we entered negotiations with Fianna Fail. Our team, led by John Gormley, requested that the Programme for Government include a commitment to legislating for same-sex marriage. Fianna Fail flatly refused to do this.

– In light of this, John Gormley demanded that the Programme for Government include a commitment to legislate for civil partnerships. In light of this, the following was included in the Programme for Government “Taking account of the options paper prepared by the Colley Group and the pending Supreme Court case, we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government”.

– During the summer, Green Party representatives were in negotiations with the Minister for Justice over how to proceed on the issue as quickly as possible.

– The Government’s ‘Legislative Programme’ for this year contained a proposal for a bill on Domestic Partnerships which would “provide for certain legal recognitions of persons (cohabitants, same-sex couples and others) in domestic relationships”. The bill falls within the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Brian Lenihan.

– Last week, it was announced that the Labour Party were reintroducing their Civil Unions bill.

The Green Party were unhappy with aspects of the proposed Domestic Partnerships bill. It was felt that it did not go far enough in achieving the commitment to legislating for Civil Partnerships in the Programme for Government. As a result of negotiations between the Green Party and the Dept Justice, it was agreed that the title of the bill would be changed to the Civil Partnership Bill. Further, the bill is to deal solely with creating civil partnerships for same-sex couples based on the options presented by the Colley Repo, along with a method by which same-sex or heterosexual couples in dependant relationships can seek redress in the event of their relationship breaking up or one party dying.

The Civil Partnership Bill will not be providing for a new registration scheme for heterosexual couples.

The Civil Partnership Bill will not result in a same-sex couples being treated the same as two brothers living together etc.

Minister Lenihan has committed to bringing the heads of this bill to Cabinet by the end of March next year. After this, a full bill will be laid before the Dail and will be passed in the lifetime of the current Government.

Minister Lenihan was concerned that the Labour Party bill was unconstitutional, and that it risked being struck down by the Supreme Court. If this had happened, the entire process of creating a bill would have to have been started again. There would have been a real possibility that the bill would not have been passed before the next General Election.

In light of his commitment to legislate for Civil Partnerships based on the Colley Report in the lifetime of this Dail, the Green Party voted with the Government against the Labour bill.
If we had voted against the Labour bill, it would have meant the end or our participation in government, and there would have been no pressure on Fianna Fail to legislate for civil partnerships.

As someone who, along with my partner, hopes to enjoy the benefits of a civil partnership, I’m very pleased with the progress that the Green Party has made on this issue. Fianna Fail has accepted the principle that gay and lesbian couples must be protected, and that this protection should be in line with what was proposed in the Colley Report.

Like Katherine Zappone and Anne-Louise Gilligan, I and the Green Party believe that true equality will only come when we are given full access to civil marriage. The bill being proposed by the Government won’t do this – neither would the Labour Party bill. However, what civil partnerships will allow for is protection of important aspects of our relationships, while we continue to fight for complete equality.

14 thoughts on “Getting passed the spin – the Green Party position on civil partnerships

  1. In other words, because you could not get full marriage, you will go with a second-class arrangement? This is disingenuous. What is stopping you supporting an equivalent to the Labour Bill? They may want equality, but they certainly don’t want it enough: this is something they could have got from FF. I am so sorry I voted Green for the last three elections. Gay people gave the Greens their trust, and they have betrayed it.

  2. Hi Barry

    Thanks for your comments.

    Firstly, the Labour Party bill was not the same as marriage – and they as much themselves.

    In the Green Party, we tried to achieve a commitment to obtain full access to civil marriage for same-sex marriage as part of the Programme for Government, but we didn’t succeed.
    We did succeed in achieving a commitment to civil partnerships based on the Colley Report, which will be implemented over the lifetime of the Government.
    I fully believe that equality means access to same-sex marriage for gay and lesbian couples, as do the Green Party. However, not everyone is concerned about securing marriage. Should we deny these people the security that would come from a civil partnership, just because we haven’t been able to convince the larger parties of the need permit same-sex marriage? I don’t think so.
    Thats why I’m pleased that the Green Party secured a commitment from the Cabinet this Wednesday to legislate for civil partnerships in the life time of this government, based on the Colley Report.

    Roderic

  3. I don’t think you understood my message. I was saying that it is
    disingenuous to say that because the Greens could not get full
    marriage, the next best thing is the Government bill, which is obviously false. The next best thing to marriage is clearly the Labour party’s proposal, creating unions that are not called marriage but confer all the same rights as it. Instead, the Greens are going to support a bill that offers gay people fewer rights than married straight people.

  4. Barry

    In his speech, Brian Lenihan pointed to two reasons why the Labour Party bill was at risk of being found unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court had found it unconstitutional, then same-sex couples would have got nothing.

    The recommendation for full civil partnership in the Colley Report include all the rights currently available to married couples. Lets wait and see what the heads of the bill that will be brought forward in March look like before making judgments on the type of bill that the Green Party will support.

    Roderic

  5. Roderic you believe everything a Fianna Fáil Minister says? since when? You’re quoting Brian Lenihan as if he’s some kind of prophet.

    Your own party leader called the former Minister of Justice a liar while doing all the hand waving stuff an angry old lady does sans handbag. The video is actuallly on John’s website still. Ciarán has said that you guys are not the moral guardians of Fianna Fáil so given the past promises and your own leader’s statements, do you not think a Fianna Fáil Minister will fiddle with the truth meter to prevent something they do not want for whatever political or hidden agenda?

    On this issue alone you think Brian Lenihan is being honest when he quotes the politically appointed Attorney General?

    I’m reminded of this line “Mrs. Merton: [interviewing Debbie McGee] What was it that first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels?

  6. The spin is something of the Greens’ own making, and it is difficult to get past it when you keep digging!

    You still have not explained why the Greens are no longer trying to advance a radical politics of same-sex marriage. In response to Barry, you advocate waiting and seeing what will emerge in March 08 – that passive position is deeply worrying if you’re not engaged in drafting legislation. While you admit to not having secured same-sex marriage as part of the Programme for Government, are you encouraging your FF colleagues to be daring? There are other commentators who suggest that the Labour Bill is constitutional, contra the MoJ view: what is Lenihan’s opinion based on, and what it the AG advice based upon? It would be very helpful to have this viewpoint articulated in public. There’s an easy way to find who is right: put the Bill through and test it!

  7. I’ve responded to the comment you left on my own blog. Apologies for the delay in getting back to you – crazy couple of days in work!

    Neil

  8. Damien

    In response to your comments on my blog, it’s not a question of whether I believe what Brian Lenihan says or not. It’s a question of whether what he says stands up to legal scrutiny.
    Having looked into his (and the Attorney General’s) opinion that S. 7 of the Labour bill was possibly an unconstitutional delegation of power to a minister, I believe that he was almost certainly correct. This provision was key to the Labour bill as it was intended to do in one section what it took over 200 sections to do in the British Civil Partnership Act – amend all existing legislation to provide for civil unions without having any of these amendments discussed in the Dail.
    As such, I believe he was right to say the Labour bill was at risk of being struck down by the Supreme Court for unconstitutionality.
    Therefore, in my view it is better to put forward a Government bill that will not have the same risk of being struck down.

    Sean R

    The Green Party has not stopped looking for same-sex marriage. We tried to get FF to agree to it as part of the Programme for Government.

    We failed.

    We then had two options. 1) Do nothing. 2) Do something.

    We have achieved something. Remember, there are plenty of members of the gay and lesbian community who are not overly concerned about whether we get access to civil marriage or not. These people simply want protection for their relationships. While I don’t agree with that position, it’s a completely valid one to take. Within the lifetime of this Government, same-sex couples will be able to enjoy the benefits of civil partnerships as outlined by the Colley Report.

    As regards the constitutionality of the bill, see my comments to Damien above.

    I completely disagree with your idea that we should have supported the Labour bill and taken the chance on the issue of unconstitutionality. That would have left us with between 18 months – 2 years of time working on this issue wasted. Better start the process with a bill that the AG regards as being constitutional.

    I can assure you that we will be negotiating with Brian Lenihan and the Dept of Justice the whole time as regards the content of the civil partnerships legislation.

    Finally, a question.

    The Government Civil Partnership bill will, obviously be less than full access to civil marriage. The Labour Party Civil Union bill was also less than marriage.

    Why is so much rage being directed at the Green Party for settling for less than full equality, when no one is commenting about the Labour position?

    Roderic

  9. Sorry, but you keep missing the point. The question is, in the absence of full marriage, what do you do? The Labour party’s answer is to offer all the rights of marriage and call it something else. Why won’t the Greens support something like this? And how can they pretend all the while that this is not what is happening, when it is so obvious to anyone watching?

    It’s clear from Ciaran Cuffe’s blog and elsewhere that the GP is going to support the “dog licence” option. This is a basic question of equality; full civil partnership without the name marriage is something that could have been won, and that was worth standing up for, yes, even risking the Coalition for (I bet my bottom dollar FF would have given in).

    It’s a gross betrayal of all the gay people (an awful lot of us) who have supported the Greens down the years. Looks very much like none of us will make that mistake again.

    And, please: how can you think of calling for attacks on the Labour Party position? They have been honourable and principled in trying to give all the rights and duties of marriage to gay people. They’ll get our votes next time round.

  10. Roderic

    I’m sorry to be pedantic – I left comments on Neil Wards Blog and maman poulets regarding the Colley report which you may have missed

    the Colley report made NO recommendations that is ZERO recommendations -Options are not “recommendations”

    Colley also put forward Civil Marriage as an OPTION – so please don’t keep saying that her report reccomended Civil Partnership because it didn’t

  11. Barry
    I don’t think its fair for you to attack the position we are taking without even seeing the proposals that the Government will be bringing forward early next year. You refer to this ‘dog-licence’, when the legislation itself isn’t even written yet.
    Rather than having a go at the 6 Green Party TD’s, you should be focusing on the 78 FF TD’s. Put pressure on FF and that will make it easier for us to push the full civil partnership option at government level.

    Ian
    You are correct in saying that the Colley Report gives options rather than recommendations. However, it is also very clear from what the Report says at 7.23 that the option of full civil partnership is the option that the Group see as the best, short of full access to civil marriage. This is what we consider to have been agreed under the Programme for Government and what we will be pushing for Minister Lenihan to legislate for over the coming year.

    Roderic

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