A new civil partnership bill in Ireland will give gay and lesbian couples some of the rights of marriage, Reuters reported.

The new law grants new legal rights to unmarried couples – gay or straight – in a long-term relationship.

The move is seen as a huge step for the traditionally Catholic country.

“This is an historic civil rights reform that will resolve many immediate and pressing issues faced by lesbian and gay couples and the minister and the government are to be congratulated,” Kieran Rose, chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said in a statement.

Ireland was one of eleven European Union member states which did not recognize gay couples. In 2003, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the right of unmarried gay and lesbian couples to be recognized equally. But Ireland had also refused to recognize heterosexual unions outside of marriage.

Ireland is governed under a power-sharing deal with the United Kingdom, which grants civil unions for gay and lesbian couples (including Northern Ireland since 2005). Activists have unsuccessfully attempted to gain recognition for gay unions by arguing the state is duty-bound under the agreement.

“This bill provides legal protection for cohabiting couples and is an important step, particularly for same-sex couples, whose relationships have not previously been given legal recognition by the state,” Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said in a statement.

Ireland decriminalized being gay in 1993.