Lower House of Irish Government Passes Civil Partnership Bill

Country: Ireland

Date of incident: July 5, 2010

Lead politicians backing the bill refuse to allow a conscience clause; opposition parties claim that the objections of Christians are being ignored.

Irish politicians in the Dáil passed a controversial civil partnership bill which will leave registrars open to a fine and prison sentence for refusing to carry out same-sex civil partnerships. The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill, as it is now called, was passed by TDs in the Dáil, the lower house of representatives, without a vote. The Senate, Ireland’s upper house, must pass the legislation before it can become law. The Bill lays out fines of up to €2,000 and/or up to a six month jail term for those who defy it through conscientious objection to performing same-sex civil partnerships. In the debate opposition TD Seymour Crawford said many groups had appealed to him for a conscience clause: “I may be the only Deputy who got this material but I assure the House I got it from Catholic bishops, Church of Ireland, Baptist and Presbyterian ministers, and many individuals throughout the country. “I make no apology of any kind for raising the matter on their behalf,” he said. But the Irish Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, who has consistently ruled out inserting a conscience clause, claimed: “There has been no representation or indication of any kind regarding the freedom of conscience issue; rather there has been a positive view from people of what we are doing in this regard.” Mr Ahern later acknowledged that representations had been made, but said that registrars did not want a conscience clause. He also commented: “I say, resolutely, to people who suggest there should be a freedom of conscience clause, that if we pass laws in this House we expect them to be implemented. Senator Jim Walsh said that the lack of a conscience clause will move the country “to a totalitarian society which certainly many of us, particularly liberals, would argue against if it were impinging upon their beliefs”. In May a group of 19 church leaders wrote to the Irish Times declaring that the Civil Partnership Bill was a “direct attack” on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. In March, Roman Catholic bishops criticised the legislation, warning that it “represents a fundamental revolution in our understanding of marriage and the family and cannot go unchallenged.” David Quinn, a commentator writing in the Irish Independent, complained that Christians’ views on the Bill were being ignored. We thank the Christian Institute for this report.