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article imageIrish rights groups slam Catholic bishops over civil partnerships

By Andrew John     Jun 17, 2010 in Lifestyle
The Catholic Church in Ireland has come under fire from civil-rights groups and members of the Irish parliament after bishops demanded a free vote on civil partnerships.
A free vote would mean legislators could vote according to their conscience, rather than obey a party whip.
Clergy want the new measure to give rights to civil registrars to refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies, according to the Irish Times.
But Mark Kelly, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), criticised the Catholic bishops for their stance. He’s quoted as saying: “The ICCL seriously doubts that the Irish Catholic bishops retain sufficient moral authority to pontificate on the Civil Partnership Bill,” he said, referring to the scandal over sex abuse by Catholic priests.
And the chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), Kieran Rose, said: “Civil partnership will address many urgent and pressing issues that thousands of lesbian and gay couples face now.
“It provides a framework of support for two people who love and care for one another.
“It will establish a legal status and standing for same-sex relationships and a comprehensive set of rights, protections and mutually enforceable obligations on the part of civil partners that are comparable to those available to married couples.”
The paper says: “Justice Minster Dermot Ahern is to bring the legislation, planned in the Programme for Government, before the Dáil (Irish parliament) on July 1st but it could be the autumn before it becomes law.
“It sets out a legal safety net on rights for same-sex couples living in long-term relationships who might be left financially vulnerable otherwise.”
If members of the Dáil were given a free (as opposed to whipped) vote it means they would be able to vote according to their conscience. But a spokesman for Ahern says all parties support civil partnerships, because they are a matter of civil rights.
‘Absence of moral conscience’
He said: “It will be implemented. The Minister for Justice has stated time and again that the Bill has been carefully drafted, on the advice of the Attorney General, to ensure that it does not undermine the constitutional position of marriage.”
The bishops have also come under fire from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which has expressed disappointment that the bishops are resisting equality for gay couples.
The USI’s president, Peter Mannion, is quoted as saying: “While USI respects the viewpoint of the Catholic Church we do not agree with it. Objecting to the implementation of equal rights for Irish citizens may be seen as an absence of moral conscience.”
Civil partnerships stop short of marriage, and officially participants cannot use the term “marriage”, although many do in the UK, where such partnerships have been law since 2005.
More about Civil partnerships, Dail, Irish parliament, Gay, Lesbian
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