Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has attacked plans by the Irish government to introduce civil partnerships, saying the country should offer gay couples full marriage rights.

A civil partnership bill is to appear before the Dáil (parliament) shortly.

The proposed legislation will grant gay and lesbian couples legal recognition in areas such as pensions, social security, property rights, tax, succession and the payment of maintenance.

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

Speaking at the Marriage Matters symposium in Dublin on May 7th, Tatchell said: “The proposed Irish civil partnership legislation is a big mistake and an insult to same-sex couples. It is a rejection of marriage equality. Separate laws for gay people are not equal laws.

“Civil partnerships will reinforce the ban on same-sex marriage and thereby reinforce discrimination. They will extend discrimination by denying heterosexual couples the right to have a civil partnership. This is not equality.

“Civil partnerships are not good enough. They are second best. Same-sex couples deserve the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. Creating one law for gays and another for straights is a retrograde, divisive step.

“I urge the Irish government to not follow the flawed British system of civil partnerships. Let Ireland lead the way and outdo the Brits by giving full civil marriage rights to its lesbian and gay citizens.

“Equality has always been our goal. We should settle for nothing less.”

The symposium was organised by the National Lesbian & Gay Federation of Ireland and attended by delegates representing Ireland’s LGBT organisations.

A MarriagEquality poll in February found 81 per cent of those polled believe that all people living in Ireland should receive equal treatment from the state regardless of their sexual orientation.

Six out of ten people believe that denying marriage to lesbians and gay men is a form of discrimination and 62 per cent of the poll said they would vote in favour of same-sex marriage if a referendum on the issue was held.