Is the U.S. going to be the last country left standing in opposition to this issue? It’s depressing when you see the progress everywhere else, but overall it’s wonderful to see this happening in a predominantly Roman Catholic country such as Ireland. A proposal is moving forward to to legalize civil partnerships, regardless of sexuality.

This tactic gets to the heart of the difference between religious marriage and civil marriage, which are two distinct things that the wingnuts have chosen to conflate, despite any reasonable, logical attempts to clarify the simple distinctions.

Ireland should legalize civil partnerships between unmarried couples, including homosexuals, but not pursue full-fledged “gay marriage,” Justice Minister Michael McDowell said Saturday in his first major policy speech on the matter.

Ireland has become one of Europe’s most prominent legal battlegrounds on the matter after a lesbian couple launched a lawsuit this month against the country’s tax collection agency for refusing to recognize their 2003 marriage in Canada. Married couples can claim a special income tax credit.

An all-party committee of lawmakers this month also launched public hearings into possible reforms to family law in Ireland, a predominantly Roman Catholic country where homosexuality itself was outlawed until 1993.

McDowell declared that the government today was “unequivocally in favor of treating gay people as fully equal citizens in our society.” But he said the current heavy public focus on whether to extend full marriage rights and responsibilities to gay couples “is too narrow.”

He listed a wide range of committed relationships outside of marriage that the state should recognize as likely to require reforms to Ireland’s laws governing tax, inheritance and pensions.

“There are many cohabiting heterosexual couples. There may be brothers sharing a farm. There may be an elderly parent being supported by a child. These may be people living together who share an economic interdependence without having any sexual aspect to their relationship at all,” he said.

He said Ireland’s parliament should pass legal reforms that “formally recognize people who have entered into a civil partnership with each other,” regardless of their sexuality, and allow the surviving half of such partnerships “to acquire next-of-kin status.”

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding