Byline: Senan Molony and Aiden Corkery
THE Civil Partnership Bill was guillotined through the Dail last night despite protests that it contains no 'conscience clause' to protect registrars who object to officiating at gay unions.
A small group of faith-based protesters kept an all-day vigil outside Leinster House as the legislation was rushed through with limited debate because of the looming summer recess.
It now goes straight to the Seanad.
Under the legislation, those who refuse to perform civil partnerships for same-sex couples face being sacked, fined up to [euro]2,000 and even jailed for six months.
The Catholic hierarchy and other churches had called for a free vote on the issue but the Government imposed a whip in order to avoid a potential defeat.
But even as it went through, those insisting it represented the 'thin end of the wedge' semmed vindicated when a pressure group called Marriage Equality called on the Government 'to move quickly and upgrade the Bill to give full civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, recognising them as a family unit.'
Spokesman Moninne Griffith said: 'Civil partnership without civil marriage promotes discrimination towards lesbian and gay people.'
Richard Greene, a spokesman for conservative lobby group Coir, complained at the absence of an opt-out for registrars who do not want to perform same-sex ceremonies on moral or religious grounds.
'Registrars could go to prison under this law - it's actually dictatorial,' he said. 'There's no protection for people who don't want to provide a service for such ceremonies.
A photographer might have an objection to seeing two men kissing but he or she could be taken to law over it.' Fine Gael TD Seymour Crawford told the debate: 'There is no room for conscience. No one has the right to refuse to take part in a civil partnership ceremony.
That is totally wrong.' He added that he and other TDs had received representations from 'Catholic bishops, Church of Ireland, Baptist and Presbyterian ministers and many individuals. I make no apology of any kind for raising the matter on their behalf.'
Charlie Flanagan, the party's new spokesman for children, admitted there had been 'substantial lobbying'.
But Dermot Ahern said: 'It is not possible from a policy or practical point of view to allow a situation whereby a civil servant mandated to implement the law can adopt an a la carte approach, depending on his or her view.' The justice minister insisted the changes would legally reflect for the first time the many forms of relationships in Ireland.
'While marriage is more popular than ever, other forms of relationships have become increasingly common,' Mr Ahern said.
'They create some difficulties in the legal system and require in our law a measure of recognition and of protection. …