Ireland should give greater rights to gay and lesbian couples, but any moves to legalize same-sex marriage are "a long way off," Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said. Ahern, speaking Sunday night to Irish state broadcaster RTE, was responding to a lawsuit filed last week by a lesbian couple seeking equal rights to married couples under Irish law, which offers a better income-tax rate to married people. The lesbian couple were married last year in Canada, where the practice has been legalized in some provinces, but have been denied the right to file their Irish taxes as a married couple.
"They say, 'We want more equality, and we want to be treated fairer.' I agree with that. I totally agree with that," said Ahern, who is Catholic. "These people who are in relationships which are not illegal, they're not immoral, they're not improper. We should try to deal with some of the issues they have to surmount in their daily lives. And I think that's the fairest, caring, and Christian way to deal with this."
An all-party parliamentary committee is currently considering substantial reform to Ireland's family law, including the question of whether to grant greater rights to unmarried couples, including gays. The 2001 census identified 1,300 gay family units in Ireland, which has 3.9 million residents, 88% of whom identified themselves as Catholic.
Irish prime minister says gay marriage is "a long way off"