No to conscience clause in Irish Civil Partnership Bill

Irish registrars who ask not to carry out same-sex civil partnerships due to their religious beliefs will have no “freedom of conscience” clause to protect them from punishment, the Irish Justice Minister has said.

Dermot Ahern said it would be “against public policy to permit State officials to choose not to perform certain of their official functions on the grounds that to do so would be contrary to their religious beliefs”.

The Civil Partnership Bill currently before the Irish Parliament would grant welfare and tax benefits on a par with marriage to homosexual couples who enter a civil partnership.

The Bill also contains new rights for cohabiting couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual.

Speaking to the Dáil, the lower chamber of the Irish Parliament, Mr Ahern said a freedom of conscience clause “would have completely unintended consequences”.

However Seymour Crawford TD, speaking for the opposition, said that there were many “practical ways” by which freedom of conscience could be allowed without “getting all tied up in knots”.

He said many religious groups “are genuinely worried about the situation and cannot understand why we cannot allow a level of freedom in this area”.

Concerns have been raised that giving same-sex couples and temporary relationships the same status as marriage devalues the institution.

Under the Bill registrars who refuse to carry out a same-sex civil partnership would face a €2,000 fine and/or up to six months imprisonment.

In England, which allows same-sex civil partnerships, some registrars with religious convictions have resigned rather than register them. Others have faced disciplinary proceedings.

Many councils, including Kent, have found ways to accommodate registrars who cannot perform civil partnerships for religious reasons.

However when Lillian Ladele, a long-serving registrar at Islington Council, asked to swap shifts so that she did not have to perform civil partnership registrations, she was disciplined.

The Council decided that she had committed gross misconduct, failed to consider her for promotion, and threatened her with dismissal.

No same-sex couple was denied a civil partnership registration at Islington Council as a result of Miss Ladele’s stance.

Miss Ladele’s case was recently heard by the Court of Appeal, where judges ruled that the Council’s treatment of her did not amount to religious discrimination.

She is now intending to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court.