Irish lesbian couple seek marriage recognition

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

An Irish couple will begin a legal battle for the recognition of their marriage today.

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan were married in Canada in 2003 but want their union to be recognised by the Irish government too.

The High Court in Dublin will hear arguments today in the case being taken by Dr Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan against the Revenue Commissioners and the State for recognition of their legal Canadian marriage in Ireland.

Senior Counsel for the plaintiffs, Michael Collins, will present the opening address before Judge Elizabeth Dunne.

He will set out that the couple are asking for equality and fairness and to be treated the same as other married couples in Ireland.

The couple, both doctors, will seek various remedies before the High Court. In particular, they will seek a declaration that in failing to recognise their Canadian marriage, and in failing to apply the tax law provisions relating to married couples to them as a married couple, the State and the Revenue Commissioners have acted unlawfully, in breach of their constitutional rights to equality, to marriage, to property rights and family rights and in breach of their rights to privacy, marriage and non-discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“This case is fundamentally about rights and equality,” said Ailbhe Smyth, Chair of the National Lesbian and Gay Federation.

“When our laws deny the equal rights of all individuals to make life-long commitments of intimacy and dependency that are actually recognised and supported by law, they discriminate and exclude.”

“We are hoping that The High Court takes the opportunity to be ambitious and to make the Irish Constitution relevant and responsive to the real and lived marriages of same-sex couples,” she said.

She also called upon members of Dáil Eireann to introduce legislation which will allow all citizens of Ireland to enter into a civil marriage if they choose to, stressing that legislators have the power to short-cut the judicial process.

“As representatives of all citizens of Ireland you have an opportunity to introduce legislation which fully commits Ireland to equality for all. Critically, we are asking you to act now – not in the next Dáil term, not after the votes for the next election are safe, not after the judiciary has considered the matter,” she said.

The case arose after Dr Zappone, a public policy research consultant, and Dr Gilligan, an academic, married in Vancouver on September 13th, 2003.

On July 1st, 2004, the Revenue refused the couple’s claim for the same allowances as a married couple under the Taxes Consolidation Acts. The Revenue argued that married couples related only to “a husband” and “a wife”, and that the Oxford English dictionary defined these as a married man and a married woman.

In the 1937 Constitution, the heterosexual marital family is the only officially recognised family structure under Irish law.

They are likely to take little comfort from their lesbian neighbours in Britain where the High Court in London recently ruled that Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger’s legal Canadian marriage is not valid in the UK, and claimed any discrimination was ruled out by the Civil Partnership Act.

Ireland does not have any same sex union laws but Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has previously spoken in favour of them.

The case is expected to run for three weeks.