The Republic of Ireland will recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions and civil partnerships from other countries when it legalises same-sex unions later this year.

The Irish Times reports that “civil unions or weddings will have the same legal recognition as new civil partnerships in Ireland, as long as they meet a number of conditions.”

The UK already recognises same-sex unions and marriages from nearly 20 countries, including Canada, the US and France.

At present Irish citizens are entering into partnerships in the UK, Canada and other nations.

Last month Ireland’s Minister of Justice rejected the possibility of a referendum to allow gay marriage.

Labour Minister Brian Lenihan said civil partnership was easier to achieve, because gay marriage would require a constitutional change that would split the country.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, he said he was keen to guarantee equality to gay people.

“This government, as our agreed programme reflects, is committed to full equality of opportunity for all in our society.

“In particular, we are committed to providing a more supportive and secure legal environment for same-sex couples” he said.

“I believe equality for same-sex couples can be achieved through a diversity of legal arrangements.

“I am very keen that in the interests to your community we should proceed now to bring in a law that will give recognition and protection to same sex couples who are involved in loving stable relationships.”

The Minister said that the expected law should allow couples to formalise their relationships, undertake mutual rights and obligations, obtain legal protection and legal benefits for their relationships.

In 2007 the Prime Minister of Ireland Bertie Ahern said that legislation would be approved during the lifetime of his government.

According to Leninan, it is now expected to be introduced by March 2008.

GLEN welcomed the Minister’s words, but added that only through marriage it was possible to achieve real equality and that they would continue to ask for it.

GLEN’s Chair Kieran Rose said that his organisation expected “principled, equality-based and comprehensive” legislation.

Homosexuality was decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland in 1993.

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