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Dublin approves lesbian couple's challenge to Ireland over gay marriage

Dublin approves lesbian couple's challenge to Ireland over gay marriage

A lesbian couple who wed in Canada can seek to have their union legally recognized in Ireland, a judge ruled Tuesday in a case he predicted would have significant consequences for this predominantly Catholic country. High Court justice Liam McKechnie said lawyers representing Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone had presented an arguable case that merited a full hearing, likely to take place next year. The couple--who were married in British Columbia in September 2003 shortly after the legalization of same-sex marriage there--are the first same-sex couple in Ireland to go to court to seek state recognition of a marriage performed in another country. The case is also a legal first for Europe, where Belgium and the Netherlands already allow same-sex marriages and several other nations grant gay couples tax, inheritance, and child-rearing rights similar to those heterosexual husbands and wives have. The United Kingdom and Spain plan to follow suit soon. Legal observers say the Irish women's case, if successful, could inspire similar lawsuits in the most conservative quarters of Europe, where gay couples are denied the rights of married straight couples. Gilligan and Zappine are demanding 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 taxes. But the judge noted that the case "isn't simply about tax bands." He noted that in a country where homosexuality itself was outlawed until 1993, any move to accord gay couples the same legal rights as husbands and wives would have "profound ethical, cultural, and religious" ramifications. He also cautioned that his ruling offered no indication as to whether the couple's complaint would be upheld or rejected, merely that it contained sufficient merit to be heard. "Today is a happy day. This is a happy case," Zappone declared outside the High Court, Ireland's second-highest court. "We have been exceptionally blessed by our unconditional love for and fidelity to one another," said Zappone, with her partner standing beside her. "Yesterday and today are simply the first steps to seek legal recognition of our lifelong love and faithfulness." 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 Monday that neither Ireland's 1937 constitution nor its more recent tax laws explicitly defines marriage as solely a union 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 a union between a husband and wife, but argued that constitutional law should not be trapped within "the permafrost of 1937." The case, if successful, could have major implications for Ireland's unmarried couples, both gay and straight, in this predominantly Catholic country of 3.9 million. The 2001 census identified 77,600 households involving unmarried partners, among them 1,300 gay couples. Under Irish law, married couples enjoy advantages over unmarried couples, who pay higher income and inheritance taxes.

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