The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Michael McDowell, T.D., has published today the Options Paper on Domestic Partnership prepared by a Working Group established by him in March 2006.

The Options Paper focuses on three distinct types of cohabiting relationships: opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples and non-conjugal relationships. The Paper presents a range of options according legal recognition and effect to each of these types of cohabiting relationships.

The Options Paper outlines how a number of other jurisdictions have legislated for various forms of cohabitation. Models in other countries include marriage for same-sex partners, registration schemes for cohabiting same-sex and opposite-sex partners, unregistered cohabitation and schemes for non-conjugal relationships.

Various options are presented for unmarried opposite-sex cohabiting couples. The options presented are: contractual arrangements, a presumptive scheme, limited civil partnership (a civil registration scheme), full civil partnership (a civil registration scheme) and legislative review and reform. The Paper also examines each of these options for same-sex cohabiting couples. In addition the Working Group considered the question of making marriage available for same-sex couples. On this issue, the Options Paper comments that, in view of existing and recent case law, extending marriage to same-sex couples is likely to be vulnerable to constitutional challenge and notes that a judgment on the recognition in the State of a foreign same-sex marriage is awaited in the High Court in the Zappone and Gilligan case.

The Working Group reports that there were very few responses to its call for submissions on non-conjugal relationships and, together with the absence of existing research material, the Group found it difficult to properly analyse options for and consequences of according legal recognition to this category.

The Government looks forward to the imminent publication of the Law Reform Commission Report (on Friday 1 December) on similar issues and the contribution that it will make to informed debate.

The Tanaiste said "Publication of the Options Paper comes at a time of wide public debate on the question of according legal status to cohabitants generally and to same-sex couples in particular. In Irish society today increasing numbers of people reside in domestic arrangements which are not founded on marriage or which do not conform to traditional family forms. The Government wants to deliver a framework in which non-married couples, including gay couples, can live in a supportive and a secure legal environment. This entails addressing the real life situations in which people find themselves."

The Tanaiste continued, "The Government considers that significant improvements can be made within the fundamental context of the requirements of the Constitution. In addition, while noting the position arrived at by the Working Group in respect of non-conjugal relationships, the Government is of the view that the arrangements made should provide protection for people in these situations on an equal basis with other relationships of mutual dependency.

The Options Paper is intended for public consultation and, together with the Law Reform Commission's Report on the Rights and Duties of Cohabitants to be published shortly, will assist in the future formulation of policy in this area."

The Tánaiste thanked the members of the Working Group for their commitment to presenting him with the Options Paper within a tight timeframe. He commended Anne Colley who chaired the Working Group and the other members for their dedication and hard work in researching the issues, consulting with relevant experts and engaging in a public consultation process, all of which is evidenced in the quality of the Options Paper and the wealth of information it contains.

Options on Domestic Partnership

28 November 2006

Note for Editors

Terms of Reference 

The Group was charged with preparing an Options Paper on Domestic Partnership for presentation to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by 20 October 2006, within the following terms of reference:

Composition of the Working Group 

The Working Group was chaired by Anne Colley, Solicitor and outgoing Chairperson of the Legal Aid Board and included members from the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Finance; Social and Family Affairs; Health and Children; the Office of the Attorney General; the Equality Authority; the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN); the Family Lawyers Association and Economist, Dr Finola Kennedy.