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Lesbian couple launch Ireland's first court battle over same-sex marriage

Lesbian couple launch Ireland's first court battle over same-sex marriage

A lesbian couple who wed in Canada launched a legal battle Monday to have their union legally recognized in Ireland, where homosexuality itself was outlawed until a decade ago. Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone--who were married in British Columbia in September 2003 within months of the legalization of same-sex marriage there--became the first gay couple in Ireland to go to court to seek state recognition of a foreign marriage. They demanded that Ireland's tax collection agency, the Revenue Commissioners, allow them to file as a married couple rather than as two single people, which involves paying more tax. High Court justice Liam McKechnie, who sits on Ireland's second-highest court, said he would rule Tuesday on whether their claim merits a full hearing. Zappone, a member of Ireland's government-appointed human rights commission, and Gilligan, a Dublin philosophy lecturer, have been partners for 23 years and live together in Brittas, a beachside resort south of Dublin. They have worked together on poverty research and feminist rights projects since the early 1980s. Their lead lawyer, Gerard Hogan, argued that neither Ireland's 1937 constitution nor its more recent tax laws explicitly defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Hogan, one of Ireland's most prominent experts on constitutional law, said the Revenue Commissioners "have discriminated against them in an unjust and invidious manner, in breach of their constitutional rights and the European Convention on Human Rights." He conceded that the Irish constitution drafted 67 years ago by then-prime minister Eamon de Valera undoubtedly presumed that "marriage" meant between a husband and wife but argued that constitutional law should not be trapped within "the permafrost of 1937." The case, if granted a full hearing Tuesday, could have major implications for Ireland's unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, in this predominantly Catholic country of 3.9 million. The 2001 census identified 77,600 households involving unmarried partners, among them 1,300 gay and lesbian couples. Under Irish law, married couples enjoy advantages over unmarried couples, who pay higher income and inheritance taxes.

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