Gay Marriage Law Won't Be Changed; Government Firm on Same-Sex Couples' Rights

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Byline: Niamh Lyons Political Correspondent

UNEASY Fianna Fail backbenchers failed last night to make changes to new 'gay marriage' legislation that will give samesex couples the right to have their relationships recognised by the State.

The TDs and senators had hoped to win a guarantee that the new law will include an opt-out for shops, hotels and other traders who do not want to treat gay partners as they would other couples.

However, they were told not to expect a 'conscience clause' to be inserted into the controversial Civil Partnership Bill which was introduced in the Dail last night.

The concerned politicians had a private meeting in Leinster House with Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday, seeking a 'freedom of conscience' amendment to the Bill which would give people an opt-out in providing goods and services to gay couples.

However Mr Ahern told the group of 30 legislators at the early-morning meeting that stitching an ethical clause into the Bill would 'open up a can of worms'.

The legislation, which has met considerable resistance from factions within Fianna Fail, will give same-sex couples recognition of their relationships by the State for the first time. It seeks to extend protection to thousands of same-sex couples in areas such as inheritance, pension benefits, taxation and medical rights.

The legislation also covers areas relating to domestic violence, residential tenancies, succession rights, refugee law and immigration.

Last night, Wexford TD Sean Connick said he had convened the meeting with his colleagues to discuss the impact of the wide-ranging new law.

He said: 'There is genuine unease and concern about certain areas of the legislation. It's an emotive subject.

'One of the obvious concerns is about the protected status of marriage within the Constitution.

There was also unease about the liberal agenda, but many people were happy with the progressive nature of the Bill, so there was a full and frank debate.' He added that it would be impossible to allow for optouts within the legislation as it could cause difficult legal problems.

'It was a very forthright exchange of views but one thing that was stressed by Minister Ahern was that any kind of conscience clause would be impossible to legislate for.

'He told us it would open up a can of worms, so that is something that seems to be off the table.' Deputy Connick said a further meeting had been arranged with the minister which will take place early in the new year. …