THE new Child and Family Relations Bill will undermine the idea of marriage and "commodify" children, a new parents' group has claimed.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the new draft law, running to over 100 pages, will be published tomorrow and begin its passage through the Dail and Seanad next week.
Opposition parties are broadly supportive, though they will be seeking amendments, especially to strengthen unmarried fathers' rights and possibly more time for discussion.
But the emergence of a new group, Mothers and Fathers Matter, who launched a major publicity campaign against the law change, increases the likelihood of child welfare remaining central in the referendum vote on marriage equality due to be held in mid-May.
The group is headed by former UCD economics professor Dr Ray Kinsella, who said they will lobby for major changes to the new bill - but also campaign against the referendum.
"We have to realise that arrangements which some adults want do not always serve the needs of children to have a father and mother," Prof Kinsella said.
Professor Kinsella added that although there were good elements to the new draft law, especially improved guardianship rights for single fathers, he insisted that it destroyed the preference for mothers and fathers in Irish adoption laws.
He also said it disrupted the natural link between parents and children and undermined the special status of marriage in the the Constitution.
"The bill effectively commodifies children and puts the wants of adults before the needs of children," Professor Kinsella said.
Minister Fitzgerald said the bill is a major reform of family law which sets out to vindicate the equal right of children, parents and families in a changed society.
"It provides a legal bedrock upon which the diversity of families will be valued, recognised and protected in today's Ireland," Ms Fitzgerald said.
Ms Fitzgerald denied there was any attempt to rush the passage of the bill and she said that the Government hopes it will be completed by TDs and senators by March 24.
Fianna Fail justice spokesman, Niall Collins, said he was concerned that enough time be allowed to debate the legislation which his party supports in principle. He said he may be seeking amendments especially in the rights of single fathers.
Sinn Fein spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn also said his party was supporting the bill in principle. He said they will also back the same-sex marriage referendum.
There was a welcome for the new law from children's rights organisation Barnardos, who said it will lead to greater equality for children in the eyes of law, no matter who is bringing them up.
"This legislation is simply catching up with the reality of thousands of children living in non-traditional family settings, providing greater legal security for their relationships with those loving them and bringing them up," Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay said.
Tanya Ward of the Children's Rights Alliance welcomed the bill, saying it provides legal clarity on parentage, guardianship, custody and access for families.