Marriage v Civil Partnership FAQs

What is marriage?

Marriage is a unique legal status conferred by and recognised by governments the world over. It brings with it a host of reciprocal obligations, rights and protections. Yet it is more than the sum of its legal parts; it is also a cultural institution. The word itself is a fundamental protection, conveying clearly that you and your life partner love each other. It represents the ultimate expression of love and commitment between two people, and everyone understands that. No other word has that power, and no other word can provide that protection.

In Ireland, the family (with or without children) based in marriage is protected by the Constitution from attack, and must be "guarded with special care". This means that other families (with or without children) do not have this special, elevated and protected status in Irish law.

Civil marriage is not the same as religious marriage. Religious marriage is a ceremony in a church, but it is followed by the signing of the civil marriage register, which is the civil (or legally binding) part. A civil marriage takes place in a registry office or other approved venue, and has nothing to do with religion.

What is Civil Partnership?

The Irish Government enacted the Civil Partnership Act in 2010, with the first ceremonies taking place in the Spring of 2011.  By the end of 2012, civil partnerships had been registered by 965 couples, and had taken place in every county in Ireland.

Although civil partnership in Ireland marked an important step in relationship recognition for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, there is still some work to be done to reach our ultimate goal of equality for same sex couples, our families and our children.  We’ve identified over 160 statutory differences between civil partnership and civil marriage.  Through our work with elected representatives and our allies in the Dáil and Seanad, we have been able to close many of these gaps – including many around finance and taxation.

And yet some very important inequalities remain.  For example, Civil Partnership:

  • does not permit children to have a legally recognised relationship with their parents - only the biological one. This causes all sorts of practical problems for hundreds of families with schools and hospitals as well as around guardianship, access and custody. In the worst case, it could mean that a child is taken away from a parent and put into care on the death of the biological parent.
  • does not recognise same sex couples' rights to many social supports that may be needed in hardship situations and may literally leave a loved one out in the cold.
  • defines the home of civil partners as a "shared home", rather than a "family home" , as is the case for married couples. This has implications for the protection of dependent children living in this home and also means a lack of protection for civil partners who are deserted.

For more information on Civil Partnership, please click here.

Why does Marriage Equality favour marriage over Civil Partnership?

Civil marriage in a registry office (or other approved venue) exists, and can easily be extended to same sex couples. 

Loving, committed relationships between two consenting adults should be treated equally, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.  Same sex couples should be allowed to share the same responsibilities, obligations and respect that marriage provides.

It makes no sense to exclude loving couples already doing the work of marriage in their daily lives – supporting one another, raising families, etc – from the legal structure intended to reinforce that dedication, those meanings, and – at its heart – commitment and love.

What does the Irish Constitution say about marriage?

The Irish Constitution does not define marriage as being between a man and a woman, and so Marriage Equality believe that the Constitution's definition of "the family" could include same-sex relationships.  

The Courts and Marriage:  The legal system (ie: our courts) simply interprets the constitutional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The Constitution is considered to be a living document, open to interpretation by the judges in the Supreme Court, to reflect the changing values of Irish society. It is, therefore, open to change.

Legislation and Marriage:  Legislation was introduced in 2004 (The Civil Registration Act) that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. This legislation could be amended at any time to define marriage in gender neutral terms.

Isn't marriage about religion?

Not at all. A civil marriage is a marriage which takes place in a registry office or other non-church venue. Religious marriage is a ceremony followed by the signing of the civil marriage register, which is the legally binding part of the event. Because of religion's traditional role in sanctifying marriages and presiding over wedding ceremonies it is easy to think of marriage as a religious rite only, but this is not the case. It is vital to separate "legal marriage" in the secular, or civil sense, from "holy matrimony" in the religious, or spiritual sense.

The marriage equality debate is about how the government should treat its citizens and how the laws on marriage should be enforced. The government is separate from and independent of religion and churches, and must define marriage in a manner consistent with the secular principles upon which the government and the laws are founded.

Some people worry that if same sex couples are allowed to marry, then religious institutions will be forced to marry couples against their wishes or beliefs.  However, just as Ireland's divorce legislation did not force religious institutions to remarry divorced people, legalising marriage equality will not require these institutions to marry same sex couples - though several religious institutions (the Unitarian Church, the Religious Society of Friends / Quakers, etc) would be happy to do so.

Would lesbian and gay parents benefit from marriage equality?

Lesbians and gay men are, and will continue to be, loving mums and dads to their children. However, through our Constitution only married parents and their children receive constitutional recognition and protection as families.

There are many family types in Ireland day, and families with same sex parents are one of them, as well as one parent families, step families, blended families and grandparents raising children.  What is important is that all children have stable, loving homes.  Part of the campaign for marriage equality is about valuing children, parents and the relationships between them.  We want the children of lesbian and gay parents to have the same protections as any other children.  Right now, they don't.

Click here to find out more about Civil Partnership and Families.

What about the children of gay and lesbian parents?

The children of lesbian and gay parents are in legal limbo in Ireland. Under the Civil Partnership Act, there is no provision for adoption or guardianship of children who are being parented by same-sex couples. In addition, there are no provisions for custody, access, or maintenance payments for children.

Furthermore, a child's de facto parent may not be treated as next of kin in a hospital or school situation, because they are not recognised as a legal parent - they are effectively strangers in law.

The fact is, banning same sex couples from civil marriage does not stop same sex couples from having children.  All it does is stop these families from being recognised in Irish law, and therefore stops children from being protected.  

Cllick here to watch our short film Rory's Story, which highlights the real life implications of the lack of protections for children of same sex couples.

Won't marriage equality require constitutional change and a referendum?

The Constitutional Convention - beginning work in 2013 - will look at the issue (among others) in detail, and make recommendations to the government as to how marriage equality could be legalised in Ireland.  This may include a referendum to amend the Constitution, change through legislation, or maintaining the status quo.  For more information on the Constitutional Convention and how you can get involved, please click here.

Marriage Equality shares the opinion of some of Ireland's finest constitutional lawyers, who see no constitutional impediment to providing marriage equality. There is no substance to the argument that providing full equality for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. In fact, the Irish Constitution upholds equality for ALL its citizens.

Whatever the Constitutional Convention recommends - whether marriage equality should be brought in through legislation or a Constitutional Referendum - members of the Oireachtas will still need to vote to pass the legislation or vote to hold a referendum, so they need to be on board.  By contacting your local TDs and Senators you will be playing a very important part in the campaign!  Click here to sign up to our campaign today!

What can I do to help, and where can I find out more information?

Marriage Equality would encourage everyone who believes in equality to go directly to your TDs and tell them that marriage equality matters, and encourage your friends, family, neighbours and coworkers to do the same!

Find out more about how you can get involved with the campaign for marriage equality by visiting our Get Involved section.


2013 is a crucial year for the campaign for marriage equality and we need to make sure that we’re here to keep this issue alive and to keep the pressure on.  We know we can deliver this with your support. .  We need YOUR financial help to ensure that we can keep doing this important work.  Join our Club 500 donor scheme here or make a donation here.

You can get more information and support from Marriage Equality by calling 01 873 4183 or emailing