Sunday, December 6, 2009

Irish lawmakers open debate on gay rights bill –

By The Associated Press


(Dublin) Ireland’s lawmakers opened debate Thursday on a bill to grant marriage-style rights to gay couples, a social milestone in a country long observant of Roman Catholic opposition to homosexuality.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the bill would give gay couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples on questions of property ownership, inheritance, medical care and access to state benefits – and also the same right to go to court seeking financial support from higher-earning partners when relationships fail.

Ahern noted that the proposal would have been unthinkable only a few years ago in Ireland, a country that defined homosexuality as a criminal offense until 1993.

He said denying the reality of thousands of gay couples in Ireland “only helps to reinforce prejudice in our society.” Photo

The Civil Partnership Bill faces opposition from a minority of lawmakers in the ruling Fianna Fail party, who are seeking an amendment permitting service providers – such as hotels and wedding photographers – to deny services to gays celebrating their civil partnerships.

But Ahern said the so-called “freedom of conscience” amendment was bigoted, violated Ireland’s 2004 anti-discrimination laws and would not be included.

The bill’s passage into law this month appeared assured because of strong backing by opposition parties.

“The Ireland of the past was undoubtedly an extraordinarily difficult place for gay and lesbian citizens. There was virtually no understanding of difference,” said Charlie Flanagan, justice spokesman for the opposition Fine Gael party.

“Thankfully we have made great strides as a nation, and we now live in a more tolerant era, characterized in the main more by reason and science than by bigotry, superstition and fear,” he said. Read complete article -

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