Government recognition of LGBT rights in the Republic of Ireland has expanded greatly over the past two decades. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, and discrimination based on sexual orientation is now outlawed. The state also forbids incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation.

Decriminalisation Edit

Homosexuality was formally decriminalised in 1993. This was the result of a campaign by Senator David Norris and the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform which led to a ruling in 1988 that Irish laws prohibiting homosexual activities were in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform was founded in the 1970s to fight for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, its founding members including Senator Norris and current and former President of Ireland Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson. Prior to 1993 certain laws dating from the nineteenth century rendered homosexual acts illegal. The relevant legislation was the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, and the 1885 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, both enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom before Irish independence, and having been repealed in the UK in 1967. Despite the continuation of these statutes in Irish law, the state had a long-standing policy of prosecuting people only in cases where minors were involved or sexual acts were committed in public or without consent.

In 1983 David Norris took a case to the Supreme Court seeking to challenge the constitutionality of these laws but was unsuccessful. In its judgement (delivered by a 3-2 majority) the court referred to the "Christian and democratic nature of the Irish State" and argued that criminalisation served public health and the institution of marriage.

In 1988 Norris took a case to the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Irish law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The court, in the case of Norris v. Ireland, ruled that the criminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic violated Article 8 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to privacy in personal affairs. The Irish parliament (Oireachtas) decriminalised homosexuality five years later, when the Minister for Justice, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, in the 1992–1994 Fianna FáilLabour coalition government included decriminalisation in a Bill to deal with various sexual offences. None of the parties represented in the Oireachtas opposed decriminalisation. Coincidentally, the task of signing the Bill decriminalising homosexual acts fell to the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, an outspoken defender of gay rights who as a barrister and Senior Counsel had represented Norris in his European Court of Human Rights case.

Anti-discrimination lawsEdit

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is outlawed by the Employment Equality Act, 1998 and the Equal Status Act, 2000. These laws forbid discrimination in any of the following areas: employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services, and other publicly available opportunities.

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act, does however allow religious organisations, medical institutions or educational institutions an exemption on employment grounds. If such an organisation wants to maintain the religious ethos or prevent the religious ethos from being undermined then it is not illegal under section 37 for them to discriminate. This applies to employment only.

Groups such as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the Irish Labour Party want to abolish section 37. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989 outlaws incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation.

Marriage and Partnership Status Edit

Ireland does not currently allow access to civil marriage for its gay and lesbian citizens.

The Civil Partnerships Bill (2008) was presented to the Cabinet on 24 June, 2008. It is expected to complete the parliamentary process by mid 2009 at the latest.[1]

Although most LGBT advocacy groups cautiously welcomed the Government's legislation, there have been criticisms of the proposals. One major criticism states that the legislation effectively enshrines discrimination in law insofar as separate contractual arrangements with greater privileges will continue to exist for opposite-sex marriages concurrent to lesser arrangements for those wishing to take out Civil Partnerships. In particular, the denial of adoption rights to couples with a Civil Partnership has been cited as particularly discriminatory.[2][3]

The bill will represent the culmination of detailed work between the parties of the governing coalition. With the entering into government of the Green Party with Fianna Fáil & the Progressive Democrats in June 2007, civil partnership legislation moved up the political agenda. On July 16, 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that "we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of this Government."[4] Following a cabinet meeting on 30 October 2007, the government said it would introduce legislation by the end of March 2008 and expects the bill to pass within a year of that. As of the end of April, no legislation had been presented by the cabinet, though many speculated that this was due to the resignation of Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach over the same period.

The most recent survey, carried out in 2008, showed that 84% of Irish people supported civil marriage or civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples, with 58% (up from 51%) supporting full marriage rights in registry offices. The number who believe homosexuals should only be allowed to have civil partnerships fell in the same period, from 33% to 26%.[5]

Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, began recognizing same-sex civil partnerships in December 2005.[4]

Former Justice Minister Brian Lenihan described it as one of the most important pieces of social legislation in the history of the country.

Lenihan said that the bill would deal with pension rights, maintenance and powers of attorney.

Under the bill, he said, same-sex couples would be allowed to register their relationships.

Adoption Edit

Irish adoption law currently only allows for applications to adopt children by married couples or single applicants. It is therefore not possible for a gay couple to jointly apply to adopt, but a single gay person or one partner of a couple may apply.

Fostering Edit

Even though joint-adoption by a gay couple is not possible, a same-sex couple may submit an joint application to foster children as there is a dire need for foster parents.

Blood ban Edit

At present the Irish Blood Transfusion Service has placed a ban on donations from males who have ever had anal or oral sex with another male, even if a condom or other form of protection was used.[6] The IBTS publically admit this is 'clearly discriminatory'.[7] Groups such as the Union of Students in Ireland have been campaigning for this ban to be repealed

Transgender Equality in Ireland Edit

Ireland is the only country in the EU that refuses to legally recognise gender change. There is at present a case being taken by Dr Lydia Foy to have her new gender legally recognised. On 19 October 2007 Dr. Foy won her case in the High Court to get a birth certificate in her female gender.[citation needed]

May 2008, the Irish High Court finally ended a transgender woman's 10-year legal struggle for state recognition, by ruling that the government had to grant her identity papers corresponding to the gender she lived in. The decision marked the first time that the High Court had ever found an Irish law incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The "Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Law in Relation to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," which spell out international legal standards for protecting against violence and discrimination, state that: "Each person's self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom.

Summary table Edit

Homosexuality legal Yes Since 1992, See Norris v. Ireland
Equal age of consent Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes Employment Equality Act, 1998
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes Equal Status Act, 2000
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, 1989
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Adoption by single gays Yes
Adoption by same-sex couples No
Fostering by same-sex couples Yes
Gays allowed to serve in the military Yes
Right to change legal gender Yes (right to legal gender change won in Irish High Court, May 2008)
Access to IVF for lesbians No (challenged)
MSMs allowed to donate blood No (challenged)

See also Edit


  4. 4.0 4.1 Grew, T. "Ireland to get civil partnerships", [], 17 July 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2007.
  5. "Increased support for gay marriage - Survey",, March 31, 2008. 
  6. Irish Blood Transfusion Service :: Share Life, Donate Blood
  7. Irish Blood Transfusion Service :: Share Life, Donate Blood
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