A Dublin, Ireland, gay couple became the public face of civil unions in the Irish State on Wednesday when they were among the first gay couples legally joined under legislation that passed last year allowing same-sex civil partnerships.
The legislation, known as the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act of 2010, gives same-sex couples rights and responsibilities comparable to heterosexual civil marriages.
The measure also includes provisions that grant rights to participants in long-term, cohabiting relationships who have not entered into a civil partnership or marriage.
Barry Dignam and Hugh Walsh met 17 years ago when homosexuality was still illegal in the Irish Republic, and both admit that neither would have foreseen that their relationship as a couple would one day be legally recognized in their country.
“We feel a certain amount of responsibility … that this is a big step which Ireland is taking and that we’re going to be a part of that,” Dignam told the Irish Times.
“This change is a pretty sizeable change although it is a pity it’s not full marriage,” Dignam said, adding that there are those in the gay community who believe strongly that civil partnership does not go far enough.
“They are right as well,” he said. “Anything which is not equality is not equal.”
Another civil partnership act was signed into law in July 2010, but did not take effect until Jan. 1 , 2011, but imposed a three month waiting period for all civil ceremonies.
According to the Irish Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, there are estimates that there are up to 1,000 same-sex relationships from 27 overseas jurisdictions that could receive legal recognition in Ireland.