Uncivil Partnerships

The Civil Partnership bill specifically prohibits any ceremony other than that before a civil registrar being recognised as valid. That means that unlike straight couples, gay couples can’t be legally united in a humanist ceremony (or by a religious minister, though not in many religions).

Ceremony is important. One civil ceremony I attended was brilliantly done by a registrar who knew how important the day was to everyone concerned. But on another occasion, I saw a bored and uninterested civil servant who droned through the minimum legally necessary form of words and shuffled everyone out so he could get back to his sandwich.

For that reason, people should have freedom in deciding where they go to profess their union.

As proposed, the Irish civil partnership bill is a cop out. Whatever about distinguishing between marriage and civil union, there is no constitutional reason why a civil union should be the same as a contract between two bachelor farmers sorting out who gets the farm when they die.

Maybe in ten years time, another government will have the courage to do it right. Maybe the Greens will grow a pair and demand a proper civil union.

I’m not holding my breath.

By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.


  1. “Whatever about distinguishing between marriage and civil union, there is no constitutional reason why a civil union should be the same as a contract between two bachelor farmers sorting out who gets the farm when they die.”

    It’s not. The latter is a redress scheme for cohabitees which is completely separate from civil partnership.

  2. And yet it’s been shoved in there, for no other reason that I can tell than because Dermot Ahern is squeamish. The government should have the courage to introduce a clean Civil Union bill. If other relationships also require legal regulation, introduce other bills.

  3. As one who married in a registry office, albeit a registry office consisting of a huge sundrenched gorgeous late mediaeval room in a 16th century town hall, let me suggest why you are wrong. Sort of wrong, anyway.

    Where I live, the rule since adoption of the modern unified civil code well over a century ago has been that every marriage must be contracted in a registry office. Any ceremony thereafter, in a church or any place else, however crucial it might be in the eyes of the bridal pair and any God to whom they owe allegiance, is of nil meaning in the eyes of the state (save for this: it is an administrative (though not criminal) offence to contract a church wedding before doing the needful down at the town hall). Here I speak, essentially, out of ignorance, but I believe this arrangement is not uncommon in civil-law jurisdictions throughout Europe.

    Some of us are content with the registry office. Many others, for various reasons (sometimes including genuine religious belief) then go on to re-enact the thing before a clergyperson of some sort. Thing is, from the perspective of the state, that second ceremony, be it never so gorgeous, performed by the Pope himself with support from the Abp Cantuar, the Moderator of the Gen’l Ass., the Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Ayatollah Sistani and with tasteful background hymns from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is, to put it bluntly, so much superfluous mummery. (In legal, technical terms, though nobody would be so impolite as to put it that way.)

    (BTW, if some of those clergy persons refuse to perform their quaint rituals at the weddings of same-sex couples, they are entirely within their right; and, so long as their ceremonies are of no legal meaning, nobody is the victim of state discrimination. The clergypeople in question are egregious swine, it’s true. But as Voltaire once said, “I despise your opinion, but I’ll risk moderately hostile reactions in a blog comments box to defend it.)

    So, here’s the thing. I’m all for making the registry-office ceremony as aesthetically pleasing and memorable as it can be. (I really did like ours. The civil servant involved clearly understood that doing things properly is as important for the state as for the couple.) But there is room for personally important but legally irrelevant private ceremony as well: vide church weddings. But why should churches have a monopoly here? Let a hundred flowers bloom, etc. Churches are, essentially, a commercial operation extracting user fees from their members (though also, shamefully, in many jurisdictions, subsidies from the state as well). What would stand against non-religious wedding-ceremony providers? Nothing, obviously; they are big business in Las Vegas already. But there is no need to restrict this industry to Billy-Bob’s Drive-Thru Chapel o’ Matrimony (service performed by Elvis impersonator $5 extra). Surely a Cathedral of High Church Sentiment Without All That God Stuff would do a roaring trade? (As many anglican congregations of my acquaintance are essentially that already, I smell a business plan…)

    Or, to put it briefly: the state arguably has a strong interest in defining and recording partnerships. Fine. But many people hanker for something more, and surely The Market, despite recent black eyes received, can do something about that. No reason this need be limited to religious bodies. If you build a better wedding, they will beat a path to your door.

  4. Ryano, “cohabitors”, surely, unless one of the bachelor farmers suffers from the predations of two pubic lice, and can make legal arrangements to address the fact.

  5. Mark, read what I said. I didn’t single out religious ceremonies. If anything, I expressed doubt that many religious would be interested in civil union ceremonies. But there should be a way to enable more people than a single registrar in a county office to witness a civil union. Why not peace commissioners, for instance? Or solicitors and commissioners of oaths? There’s usually at least one in every country town. Then the market can take care of the wallpaper. We recently introduced an Act allowing civil weddings to take place outside registry offices. Why then are we rowing back on that when it comes to civil unions?

    And Ahern demeans civil unions by adding other categories of civil partnership (categories which no one has been calling for, by the way; they exist only as a figleaf to cover Ahern’s conservative modesty.)

    The French do civil ceremony well. I’ll take your word the Germans do too. It would be nice to think we had a minister for equality and law reform who could think beyond formulas and bring a little humanity to his work. Instead, we get someone who wants to make it a crime to libel God.

  6. “And Ahern demeans civil unions by adding other categories of civil partnership (categories which no one has been calling for, by the way; they exist only as a figleaf to cover Ahern’s conservative modesty.)”

    There are no other categories of civil partnership in the Bill:

    “3.—For the purposes of this Act a civil partner is either of two
    persons of the same sex who are—
    (a) parties to a civil partnership registration that has not been
    dissolved or the subject of a decree of nullity, or
    (b) parties to a legal relationship of a class that is the subject
    of an order made under section 5 that has not been dissolved
    or the subject of a decree of nullity.”

    The redress scheme is completely separate to civil partnership, and is not just a figleaf as it addresses a real world issue that affects many people. The Green Party’s policy on Marriage and Partnership Rights calls for three measures: extension of full civil marriage to same-sex couples, civil partnerships, and protection of co-habitees in non-registered relationships. This Bill addresses the latter two, with full marriage still to be won.

    (I think I know where I got “cohabitees”: http://www.greenparty.ie/en/policies/marriage_and_partnership_rights )

  7. OK Ger, fair enough, I did misread you. But I think that is b/c I view the issue from a different slant. I don’t care if religious people don’t want a civil service. I want them (and everybody else) to have to get one if they wish to be viewed as “married”, with all that appertains thereto, in the eyes of the state. If all they care about is being seen as married in the eyes of their god or gods, they can sacrifice a goat in front of a statue or whatever else they think auspicious and pleasing to the deities, that is no concern of the state. But if they want the status of “married” in both jurisdictions, then let them do both things.

    I’d go further. It’s not so much that I want to let everybody currently relegated to mere civil union eligible for full-on marriage. I do, but my preference would be that everybody gets a civil union and nothing else; and anybody thereafter interested in something invested with mystical significance can purchase the services of a minister or shaman or new-age crystal-waver. (B/c eliminating the term “marriage” would eliminate certain historical baggage, you see.) But, realistically, I don’t expect that to happen any century soon, and in the mean time will settle for marriage equality. If a swine like me can marry, then surely my virtuous but gay friends should a fortiori enjoy the same privilege? (This is not an abstract issue for me, BTW.)

    But on your specific point, yes: premising marriage OT1H and civil union OTOH, then if one allows greater procedural flexibility for the one, there is no plausible excuse for denying it for the other.

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