Associated Press, November 10, 2004

Irish court to weigh recognition of lesbians' marriage

By Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press

DUBLIN -- A lesbian couple who wed in Canada can seek to have their union legally recognized in Ireland, a judge ruled yesterday in a case he predicted would have deep consequences for this predominantly Catholic country.

High Court Justice Liam McKechnie said lawyers representing Ann Louise Gilligan and Katherine Zappone had presented a case that merited a full hearing, likely to take place next year.

The couple -- who were married in British Columbia in September 2003 within months of the legalization of same-sex marriage there -- are the first gay couple in Ireland to go to court to seek state recognition of a foreign marriage.

The case is also a legal first for Europe, where Belgium and the Netherlands already allow same-sex marriages and several other nations grant homosexual couples similar tax, inheritance, and child-rearing rights as husbands and wives have. Britain and Spain plan to follow suit soon.

Legal observers say the Irish women's case, if successful here, could inspire similar lawsuits in the most conservative quarters of Europe, where gay couples are denied the rights of married heterosexual couples.

Gilligan and Zappine are demanding that Ireland's tax collection agency allow them to file as a married couple rather than as two single people, which involves paying more tax.

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.

"Today is a happy day. This is a happy case," Zappone declared outside the High Court, Ireland's second-highest court.

Their lead lawyer, Gerard Hogan, argued Monday that neither Ireland's 1937 constitution nor its more recent tax laws explicitly defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

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