The Republic of Ireland is considering a bill that would grant gay and lesbian couples most of the rights and obligations of marriage.

Debate began Thursday on Justice Minister Dermot Ahern's Civil Partnership Bill, the Independent reported.

Ahern said the new bill “will change the legal landscape” for gay couples.

Ireland reversed a law that made being gay a criminal offense in 1993. Since then, the nation has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and opened the military to gay and lesbian service members. But lawmakers refuse to recognize gender identity and gay men are banned from donating blood.

If approved, the bill would create a separate legal framework from heterosexual marriage for gay couples. The civil partnership, which offers many of the rights of marriage except adoption, has received a mixed reception by gay rights groups. Some say the adoption exclusion makes the bill unacceptable, while other have welcomed the progress.

“This is a major civil rights reform that will resolve many immediate and pressing issues faced by lesbian and gay couples,” Kieran Rose, chair of the gay rights group Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), said in a statement. “The government is to be congratulated on bringing forward the bill and we look forward to its enactment as quickly as possible.”

“A critical omission in the bill is the lack of legal support and recognition of the many children being parented by same-sex couples,” Rose added.

But the nation's largest gay marriage group, LGBT Noise, panned the bill. “If this Civil Partnership Bill becomes law it will force gay couples to participate in their own discrimination and the children of same-sex couple will remain vulnerable. The gay community should not be punished for their sexual orientation by being offered this second-class bill, nor should their children be punished by the lack of protection offered within it,” Liam Connolly, organizer of Noise, said in a statement.

Lawmakers say implementing gay marriage would violate the Irish Constitution.