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First gay couple to have civil partnership recognised

Resource type: News

Irish Times | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

By CARL O’BRIEN.  GLENN CUNNINGHAM and Adriano Vilar have become the first gay couple in the State to have their civil partnership formally recognised by the State.

The couple, who work at Argos, formed a civil partnership at a ceremony in Northern Ireland last year.

Like other same-sex couples with a previous foreign civil marriage or partnership, their union became recognised under Irish law since last Thursday.

But in their case, there was a twist. On that same day, by chance, the pair were on a day off and at the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service offices trying to sort out Vilar’s residency status. He is Brazilian and has been living here on a student visa for the past two years or so.

“At first the officials didn’t know what to do, they’d never dealt with a legally binding civil partnership involving a gay couple,” recalls Mr Cunningham (43). “Eventually, the officials came back and said: ‘Congratulations – you’re the first couple in Ireland to be recognised as civil partners’. We were shocked – we couldn’t believe it!”

Mr Villar (29), adds: “My reaction was like, ‘Wow-wee, yahoo! Really?’ I’ve always felt quite insecure – only living here on a student visa. We went off and got a bottle of champagne to celebrate.”

It’s a sentiment that will be shared by many same-sex couples over the coming weeks and months. Hundreds of couples who have formed unions abroad can now have their relationships recognised in Irish law.

In addition, the first Irish civil partnerships are expected to take place from next April onwards.

“This is a new dawn for lesbian and gay couples,” said Kieran Rose of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen). “Civil partnership opens up a new vision for their relationships and their lives and creates the legal framework for a more secure future.”

The rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples are significant. Civil partnerships extend marriage-like benefits across a range of areas such as property, residency, social welfare, succession, maintenance, pensions and tax. Until now, the lack of any formal recognition for same-sex couples has been especially difficult for couples where one partner is from outside the EU.

Gay rights groups have dozens of examples of couples who have been unable to live together due to residency problems, travel restrictions or because their unions weren’t recognised under law. In the case of Cunningham and Vilar, those days of uncertainty are over.

“Previously, the authorities could have rejected Vilar’s student visa at any stage,” says Mr Cunningham, who lives with his partner in Cherry Orchard.

“It also meant he could only work a maximum of 20 hours a week. That was very difficult for him, as he previously worked in Brazil as a manager for Nokia. Now, he’s able to work full-time and will be able to find a job that suits his qualifications.”

GLEN is an Atlantic grantee.

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