Skip to main content

Field Dispatches: Winning Civil Partnerships in Ireland

Resource type: News

Q & A with the Gay & Lesbian Equality Network |

In early July of this year, both houses of the Irish Parliament passed a landmark Civil Partnerships law, guaranteeing new rights to same-sex couples. The bill – “one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in 90 years” – was signed into law 18 July 2010.  For the Gay & Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), the victory is the culmination of years of hard work. The Atlantic Philanthropies spoke with Kieran Rose, Chair, and Eoin Collins, Director of Policy Change in GLEN, and asked him what the victory means for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual (LGBT) community, and what lessons gay rights advocates around the world can take from it.

GLEN celebrates passage of the Civil Partnership Bill passed by Seanad

Civil Partnership Bill passed by Seanad: Brian Kearney-Grieve (The Atlantic Philanthropies), Christopher Robson, Marie Hamilton (hidden), Senator Ivana Bacik, Odhran Allen, Kieran Rose, Eoin Collins (hidden), Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Brian Sheehan, Tiernan Brady and Senator Gerry Buttimer. Photo courtesy of GLEN. 

AP: What does the victory mean for the LGBT community in Ireland?

GLEN: Civil partnership is of major practical and symbolic value to LGB people. It extends most of the rights and obligations of civil marriage to same-sex couples. It provides for legal recognition in many areas not covered in state level marriage in the U.S. such as recognition on a par to married couples in immigration, social security and national taxation. Civil Partnership also involves the same public registration process as civil marriage.

Civil partnership has been enacted with the support of all political parties in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament). Recognition of children/same-sex parenting is a major gap in the legislation, but there was agreement from all parties in the debates on civil partnership that this can be addressed through further change in family law.


AP: Does this law accomplish your goals fully, or does GLEN plan to advocate for marriage rights beyond civil partnerships?

GLEN: GLEN has always sought civil marriage and we have welcomed civil partnership, which is closely based on marriage, as a radical step toward that goal. The critical challenge to achieving marriage is the consensus that now exists across all political parties that opening out civil marriage to same-sex couples will require a referendum to change the Irish Constitution.

The legal case taken by Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland did not succeed in the High Court, following a detailed judgement in 2006. An appeal has been lodged with the Supreme Court with the hearing hopefully to be held by the end of the year, although no specific date has been set as yet.

A critical immediate goal of GLEN is for legal recognition of same-sex families. Important policy opportunities for advancing such recognition now exist. At an institutional level, this includes the work of the Law Reform Commission on the legal aspects of family relationships. Considerable political support was also expressed in the debates on civil partnership by politicians across political parties for further progress to address gaps in legal recognition of children being parented by same-sex couples.


AP: Describe the campaign: how long has GLEN been working for civil partnerships and what role did it play in the victory?

GLEN: From 2005, GLEN based its campaign for marriage and equality-based family law reform on intensive engagement with Government, politicians across all parties, state agencies and the wider Irish public. Critical milestones included:

  • The launch of GLEN’s strategic plan by the Irish Prime Minister in 2006 where he set out the Government’s commitment to equality and legislative reform.
  • GLEN’s engagement with three successive Ministers for Justice and politicians across all parties to put legal recognition on the political agenda. Every political party committed to legal recognition of same-sex couples in the 2007 general election, which gave a mandate for legislative change.
  • Appointment of GLEN by the Government to its ‘Colley’ Working Group, which put forward just two equality-based options for legal reform. These were marriage, and if not marriage (due to Constitutional issues), then full civil partnership giving the same legal protections and recognition as marriage but without the Constitutional recognition given to marriage.
  • Intensive and successful engagement with Minister for Justice, all politicians in the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) and the wider public to ensure that at least full civil partnership based on marriage was enacted as opposed to earlier proposals (which continued to be supported by those opposed to change for same-sex couples) for a civil partnership model based on informal cohabitation with no conjugal status for same sex couples and limited protections.


AP: In 2006 GLEN adopted an aggressive, multi-faceted strategy “Building Sustainable Change,” to win systemic long-term change in Ireland. How does this victory on civil partnership impact on the rest of its agenda and public perception of LGBT issues?

GLEN: In the debate on the Civil Partnership Bill in the Seanad, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform Dermot Ahern stated that “The level of support for the Bill shows that securing the civil rights of gay people is a mainstream goal and that ignorance and homophobia which gay people and their families – fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters – lived with in the past has no place in modern Ireland.”

In placing progress for LGB people in the mainstream, civil partnership has contributed to major progress in other areas of GLEN’s strategy for equality. This includes:

  • Education: GLEN has worked with the Government Department of Education and Science on its first major policy dealing with sexual orientation at second level, a policy supported by all education partners, including Catholic school management bodies.
  • Employment: There has been a significant demand from employers for support on workplace equality – which has included information on civil partnership that establishes a range of workplace provisions including equal treatment for married couples in taxation, pensions, immigration and workplace benefits.
  • Health and Well-being: Major policy developments with health professionals and providers in making health services accessible and appropriate to the needs of LGBT people.


AP: What lessons can civil partnership and same-sex marriage advocates in other parts of the world take from this victory? What campaigning tactics and strategies were most effective?


  • A Key Starting Point: GLEN was confident and optimistic that we could win the support of the vast majority of Irish people. 
  • Engagement: Calm, consistent and professional engagement with Government, legislators and the wider public. (Having significant resources from The Atlantic Philanthropies and other sources was critical to the professionalism of GLEN events and publications)
  • Listening: Focused on winning people over by listening to their concerns and responding to them respectfully but on a principled basis, yet still highlighted equality as our goal.
  • Hearts and Minds: GLEN appealed to people’s hearts, values and aspirations as well as their minds in building support.
  • Political Strategy: Appealed to the best in the traditions of each political party and in wider Irish society. For example, opposition of 30 Fianna Fáil TD’s and Senators to CP whittled down to three by appealing to the Republican and secular traditions of Fianna Fáil.
  • Avoided “Cultural War”: Did not present campaign for marriage as a cultural war with winners or losers but rather as progress in which everyone can take pride.

An overriding lesson for further progress is that how you win is as important as what you win. This is particularly important for laying the ground and motivation for further progress. Especially important in this respect was that:

  • All political parties saw civil partnership as a major achievement in which all have played a role.
  • Irish people have seen civil partnership as an achievement. This was evident to the very positive reaction of the public to GLEN winning a People of the Year Award, the nearest thing Ireland has to an honours system. Speaking at the televised awards ceremony, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform said “In the Civil Partnership Bill, I think they [GLEN] approached it really amazingly well in that they targeted everybody; they didn’t just target the people who were on their side.”
  • Civil partnership was also achieved despite the opposition of the Catholic Church and lay religious organisations. However, the legislation was not presented as a defeat for anyone, but as an achievement for all of society and for Irish democracy.

The Gay & Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) is an Atlantic grantee. 

For more information on GLEN visit

Related Resources




Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, GLEN