Rights of same-sex couples

Introduction

In many European countries, legal recognition has been given to same-sex partnerships to varying degrees. In 2011, a statutory civil partnership registration scheme for same-sex couples was introduced in Ireland. Following a vote in favour of marriage equality in a constitutional referendum, the right for same-sex couples to marry was introduced in November 2015.

Civil partnerships

Under the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 a statutory civil partnership registration scheme for same-sex couples was introduced in January 2011. Under the scheme, registered civil partners have broadly the same rights and obligations towards each other as the rights and obligations of married couples towards each.

Since the commencement of the Marriage Act 2015 on 16 November 2015, no new civil partnerships can be registered. However, couples who had already given notice of their intention to register a civil partnership and had completed their civil partnership registration form had until 15 May 2016 to register their civil partnership.

More information is available in our document: Civil partnership and same-sex couples.

Marriage

Since 16 November 2015, it is possible for same-sex couples to get legally married and to have the same rights and obligations towards each other as opposite-sex married couples. It is also possible for a couple in a civil partnership to marry. More information is available in our document on getting married.

Cohabitants

Under the 2010 Act, cohabitants are defined as two same-sex or opposite-sex adults who are:

  • Not married to each other or in a registered civil partnership
  • Not related within the prohibited degrees of relationship (broadly speaking, relationships which would make them ineligible to marry each other)
  • Living together in an intimate and committed relationship.

The Act amended a number of laws where rights are already available to opposite-sex cohabitants in order to make such rights available to same-sex cohabitants. These include:

  • The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 was amended to provide that a same-sex cohabitant of a deceased tenant has the same entitlement to inherit a tenancy as an opposite-sex cohabitant of a deceased tenant has
  • The Civil Liability Act 1961 now provides that a same-sex cohabitant of a deceased person has the same entitlement that an opposite-sex cohabitant has to sue for damages in the event of the cohabitant’s wrongful death
  • Qualified cohabitants as defined in the 2010 Act (see below) are now entitled to be informed about the registration of an enduring power of attorney under the Powers of Attorney Act 1996

Redress scheme

The Act also introduced a redress scheme for cohabiting couples including same-sex cohabiting couples in the event of the relationship ending. To be a qualified cohabitant for the scheme you must have been a cohabitant for at least 5 years, or for 2 years if you have a child with your partner. If one of you is still married, then neither of you may be a qualified cohabitant until the married person has been living apart from their spouse for at least 4 of the previous 5 years.

Tax

Cohabiting couples (whether same sex or opposite sex) are not treated in the same way as married couples or civil partners for tax purposes.

Social welfare

Cohabiting opposite-sex couples were already treated in the same way as married couples in the social welfare system. Since 1 January 2010, cohabiting same-sex couples are treated the same as cohabiting opposite-sex couples. This follows changes introduced by the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2010. This means that one of the cohabitants will be treated as an adult dependant when the other cohabitant makes a claim for a social welfare payment.

EU citizens and their family members

The European Communities (Free Movement of Persons) Regulations 2015 transpose EU Directive 2004/38/EC into Irish law. The Regulations provide for the facilitation of entry and residence for EU citizens and their family members. The Regulations also provide for a wider definition of "family member", to include a partner with whom the EU citizen has a durable relationship, duly attested, and the dependent parents, children under 21 and other dependent children of that partner. This does not involve the recognition of such partnerships for other purposes. Read more about residence rights for family members here.

Further information

For more information on cohabiting same-sex couples rights see our document: Rights of cohabiting couples

Page edited: 16 November 2015