This article will highlight some of the main differences between the rights afforded to couples in a civil partnership and couples who are married. Particular attention will be given to the report published by Marriage Equality Ireland entitled ‘Missing Pieces’ , which audited the main differences between the rights and responsibilities gained from civil partnership compared to the rights and responsibilities gained through civil marriage in Ireland. While civil partnership does confer similar rights to those afforded to opposite-sex married couples, civil partnership is not equal to marriage. Within the legislation there are salient differences which ‘promote inequality and discrimination’ toward same-sex couples. Most notably the 2010 Act is silent on the position of children in civil partnerships. One of the main issues in need of urgent reform is guardianship rights for civil partners.
According to Marriage Equality Ireland and its audit on civil partnerships, there are 169 differences in treatment between heterosexual married couples and same-sex civil partners under current Irish legislation. As is the case with all non-marital families in Ireland, civil partners are not afforded the same constitutional protection as families based on marriage.
A number of omissions from the 2010 Act have potentially major implications for civil partners in certain circumstances. Throughout the report submitted by Marriage Equality Ireland, numerous examples of these omissions are set out. These include; the lack of family home protections for civil partners who are deserted; the omission of equivalent provisions that apply to certain housing grants; and the fact that civil partners do not have the same rights under the Freedom of Information Act. This can have serious implications in the case of a death of a civil partner .
Other differences present financial or practical challenges for same-sex couples, should their relationship break down. For example, there is no recourse to judicial separation for civil partners, leaving them with less legal avenues to deal with their break up. Separated civil partners must wait to acquire a court order of dissolution before qualifying for favourable tax treatment. This same tax treatment is available to opposite sex couples once they have agreed to separate.
Within the 2010 Act there is a notable lack of recognition of the rights afforded to civil partners in regard to their family and children. These omissions have the potential to cause major difficulties for same-sex couples and their families. Areas in which these complications may occur include; dissolution of civil partnerships; guardianship; custody and access rights; and maintenance for children.