DUBLIN Ireland recognized the legal rights of same-sex couples for the first time Friday in a civil partnership bill that gave people in long-term relationships many of the statutory rights of married couples.
But it stopped short of recognizing civil marriage. There are strong rights conferred to marriage under the constitution of the traditionally Catholic country, which was amended to lift a ban on divorce in 1995.
"This bill provides legal protection for cohabiting couples and is an important step, particularly for same-sex couples, whose relationships have not previously been given legal recognition by the state," Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said in a statement.
The legislation provides a range of previously denied rights including maintenance obligations, protection of a shared home and succession. "Balance is achieved by maintaining material distinctions between civil partnership and marriage, in particular between the rights attaching to both, while at the same time reflecting the equality rights protected by the constitution," Ahern said.
The legalized sale of contraceptives caused controversy upon its introduction in 1979 in Ireland, where abortion still remains illegal.
"This is an historic civil rights reform that will resolve many immediate and pressing issues faced by lesbian and gay couples and the minister and the government are to be congratulated," Kieran Rose, chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said in a statement.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Robert Woodward)