Legislation to legalise same sex unions in the Republic of Ireland was defeated in the country’s parliament yesterday.

The Irish government said that the bill proposed by the Labour party would not comply with the constitution, but said that they would introduce their own legislation later this year.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell told Irish MPs (called TDs) that the state is constitutionally required to uphold the institution of marriage.

Article 41 of the Irish constitution says the institution of marriage is to be protected, but does not define what marriage is.

A national referendum to change the constitution would, “be highly unlikely to succeed and could, if attempted, be very counterproductive in terms of achieving social consensus on this issue,” he told the Irish parliament, the Dail.

Mr McDowell promised that the government would be bringing forward legislation to protect the rights of all unmarried couples, gay or straight.

They asked for opposition parties to give them six months to devise their own proposals.

The Labour TD who introduced the bill, Brendan Howlin, called the government’s actions shameful and some members of the government party were also critical.

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte called Mr McDowell’s speech: “a shameful, shallow, rowdy, incoherent, arrogant and bombastic farce,” according to the Evening Echo.

“Given that you have to accept that he’s not a stupid man, one could only be driven to the conclusion that his performance was deliberately deceitful,” he added.

During his speech, Mr McDowell, a member of the Progressive Democrats, a minor party in coalition with the ruling Fianna Fail party, talked about the past prejudice LGBT people faced in Ireland.

“From the very dark days of prejudice, a new tolerance has emerged based on our appreciation of the fact that homosexual people are in every respect entitled to be equally valued as members of society and not to be relegated to an inferior status,” he told TDs, according to cwnews.com.

The defeated bill would have granted all of the same rights for same-sex couples as married couples currently enjoy.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993, but since then the country has embraced gay rights.

Both discrimination and incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation are illegal.

A recent opinion poll found 84% in favour of some sort of recognition for lesbian and gay couples.

Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, has had same-sex civil partnerships since December 2005.

Earlier in the week remarks by the President of Poland about homosexuality during a state visit to Ireland outraged politicians.

Speaking to an audience at Dublin Castle, Lech Kaczynski said that the promotion of homosexuality would lead to the eventual destruction of the human race.

Politicians across the political spectrum in Ireland lined up to pour scorn on the Pole’s comments.

Kaczynski was challenged over his homophobic views, and his decision to ban a gay rights march in Warsaw in 2004. He replied:

“If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear.

“Imagine what grand changes would occur in mores if the traditional links between men and women were set aside.”