Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Civil Partnership is not marriage. It will not automatically apply all the rights of marriage to civil partners, and therefore same-sex couples will not have equality. It will give partners who register their partnership some legal rights and protections in relation to succession rights and property rights.

However, 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 recognize 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.

Marriage Equality recently published a marriage audit, called "Missing Pieces". The report compares the rights, protections and responsibilities afforded to married couples with those afforded to Civil Partners. "Missing Pieces" identifies 169 differences between Civil Partnership and civil marriage.

Click here for more information and to read "Missing Pieces".

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. Anything less than marriage is less than equal. There is no need for a separate and unequal legal institution (Civil Partnerships) to recognise same-sex relationships.

In Ireland, the rights conferred upon a couple under the Civil Partnership Act are far fewer than those they would receive if they could marry.

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 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 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.

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, the Government continually ignores this fact. Through our Constitution, only married parents and their children receive constitutional recognition and protection as families.

What about the children of gay and lesbian parents?

The children of lesbian and gay parents are in legal limbo in Ireland. Even the new Civil Partnership Act totally ignores them and their rights. Under the 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.

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

The Supreme Court has yet to decide that issue in the Zappone & Gilligan case, which is currently before the court.

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.

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 the rights of lesbian and gay couples are infringed by being denied access to civil marriage.

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

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