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Gay marriages will be recognised in Ireland before the end of the year

Panti Bliss joins supporters at Dublin Castle earlier this year
Panti Bliss joins supporters at Dublin Castle earlier this year

Gay marriages will be recognised in Ireland before the end of the year.

Despite delays in publishing the liberalised laws following legal challenges, the Government said the legislation should be passed in weeks clearing the way for the first ceremonies.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said politicians will begin debating the Bill next week.

"It will make marriage equality a reality in Ireland," she said.

The only gay marriage ceremonies that can take place before the end of the year are those involving couples who have already notified the Civil Registration Office of their intention to enter into a civil partnership.

There is a three-month wait to have the application confirmed.

But a Government spokesman said a provision has been included in the new legislation to allow those civil partnerships notifications converted to marriage licences in a "quick and straightforward" manner.

The path to the reform was secured in May when Irish people made history by becoming the first in the world to agree to it by popular vote.

It had initially been hoped the laws would be enacted in the summer but a series of failed legal challenges to the validity of the referendum had to be heard first.

Among the new rules on same-sex marriages are reduced fees from 200 euro (£145) to 50 euro (£36) for civil partners wishing to marry, and couples will be able to accept their partner in marriage vows as a husband, wife or as a spouse.

Couples already in civil partnerships will be able to marry one another without having to dissolve their civil partnership.

The Department of Justice said civil partnership will, in general, be closed to new couples and eventually become defunct after about six months with only couples who have completed forms, paid fees or been delayed able to register the partnership.

Priests and religious ministers or organisations will not be forced to solemnise a gay marriage.

Other reforms include the recognition of same-sex marriages registered overseas.

Kieran Rose, co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, said: "The right to marry for lesbian and gay couples is now in the Irish Constitution, thanks to the people of Ireland who resoundingly voted in favour of it on May 22.

"These final steps to ensure equal citizenship for lesbian and gay people are eagerly awaited. Having waited decades, many couples are counting down the weeks to being able to say 'I do' to their loved one."

Tanaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said: "It represents another staging post on the road to making marriage equality a part of our laws and our reality."

The reform also prompted Amnesty International to warn Northern Ireland was being left behind in gay rights reform.