Gay rights groups in Ireland have expressed disappointment that the government may not extend parental rights to same-sex couples as part of new legislation to legally recognise lesbian and gay relationships.

On Monday MarriagEquality, a group formed to campaign for full civil marriage, released the details of a poll it commissioned which shows the number of Irish people who support partnerships only has fallen from 33% to 26%.

MarriagEquality’s Grainne Healy said that reports about the new civil partnerships indicate they do not give gay couples the same rights as married heterosexuals.

“While any legislation in this area is welcome, if these reports are true, it is of great concern that gay and lesbian people will continue not to have the same rights as heterosexual couples,” she told The Irish Times.

Overall 84% of those polled support either gay marriage or civil partnerships.

The Irish government has ruled out gay marriage, claiming that it would require a change to the country’s constitution and a potentially divisive referendum.

“We will reserve judgment on the scheme until we have a chance to analyse in detail what the government is proposing,” said Ms Healy.

“But we are adamant that the only way to achieve equality for gay and lesbian people is to allow them to marry in a civil registry office.”

The Irish government is to announce the details of their Civil Partnership Bill next week.

The country’s media are reporting that the legislation will cover areas such as pensions, social security, property rights, tax, succession and the payment of maintenance.

It is thought the government is not going to give same-sex couples equal rights as parents.

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

New research into US Census Bureau data published last month revealed that 1,200 Irish-born gay men and lesbians are living with a same-sex partner in America.

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy also found that two-thirds of Irish-born same-sex partners are women and 15% are raising children.

It is understood that the Republic of Ireland will recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions and civil partnerships from other countries when it legalises same-sex unions.

In December Ireland’s Justice Minister Brian Lenihan rejected the possibility of a referendum to allow gay marriage.

Article 41 of the Irish constitution says:

“The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.”

It does not give any definition of marriage itself, and critics and constitutional scholars argue it does not outlaw gay marriage.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network last year, Mr Lenhian 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.”