Dr Katherine Zappone and Dr Ann Louise Gilligan
Their story is part of our ‘World of Equals’ series celebrating egalitarian partnerships throughout history and today.
Katherine and Ann Louise’s story is a love story. One which crossed continents, oceans and ultimately to the highest courts in the land in a fight for equality.
They met in Boston College in 1981 when both began a PhD programme, Ann Louise came from Dublin and Katherine from New York City, though originally from Seattle.
It was love at first sight and a year after meeting they gathered a small group of friends to celebrate a life-partnership ceremony where they promised to share dreams, fears, financial resources, accomplishments and failures.
In 1983 Katherine and Ann Louise moved to Ireland, an Ireland almost unrecognisable today.
It would be a decade later after a long legal battle by Senator David Norris before the laws changed to decriminalise homosexual behaviour.
During this period Katherine and Ann Louise were active within the civic sphere in relation to many human rights issues.
Beginning as The Shanty in September 1986, they established a community-based project as a platform for active citizenship and transformational education.
Since September 1999, An Cosán has been located in Jobstown, at the base of the beautiful Dublin mountains, nestled in a three story building.
Today it is Ireland’s largest such community education organisation – supporting people in communities across the country.
The personal origins of a legal case for equality began late in 2001—after 19 years of life-partnership—when an impending visit to Chile prompted an updating of wills.
Deciding to ‘get affairs in order’ just in case anything might happen while abroad they discovered that unlike married couples who jointly co-own property, they could not will half of their property to the other upon death, without major capital acquisition taxation implications.
One of the primary reasons to take a case was to break the public silence about partnership recognition between same-sex couples.
With the support of a small network of family, friends and supporters – including a small legal team - in July 2003 the decision was taken to take a constitutional case.
Such was their love that eight weeks later they married in British Colombia, Canada – the only place in the world this could happen.
What followed was a case against the Irish State, the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General.
It was November 2004 that in full glare of the world’s media permission of the High Court was sought to proceed with the case.
A packed courtroom heard Judge McKechnie conclude his ruling by saying
“A number of deeply held values, and so on, are up for consideration. The issue of marriage itself is up for debate. The ramifications of the case will not stop here.”
Leave for a judicial review was granted.
Ireland’s debate had begun.
A March 2006 appearance the Late Late Show brought the love story to the attention of the nation.
Then host Pat Kenny noted that then Taoiseach,Bertie Ahern did not believe a referendum would pass. After inviting a show of hands from the audience Pat finished by saying ‘Bertie, you were wrong!’
A case across the autumn and winter October 3rd produced a written judgement 138 pages long.
As the Court saw it Katherine and Ann Louise did not have the right to marry here under the constitution because that right is confined to the union of a man and a woman.
That dark moment led to a new national movement.
In February 2008 friends, feminists and supporters gathered around the kitchen table in Ann Louise and Katherine’s home. The organisation ‘Marriage Equality’ was born.
Katherine and Ann Louise were very clear – the mission was for full equality not second class marriage.
Civil Partnership did become a reality but it was not enough.
Political changes brought new hope. In June 2011 the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly reignited the campaign.
Ann Louise, Katherine and fellow campaigners were able to re-assure nervous politicians that the support was there for a referendum – and a referendum which would pass.
Stories were shared – stories which struck a chord with fellow citizens.
As campaigners and activists the community recognised the need to work together, one voice, agreed messaging.
These efforts culminated in that fantastic day at Dublin Castle in May 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to say yes to Marriage Equality by popular vote.
In January 2016 at Dublin City Hall the President, Members of Government and many other friends, and their families, joined Katherine and Ann Louise for a very moving ceremony. They not only renewed their vows – they brought their marriage home!
After a short illness Ann Louise Gilligan passed away on 15th June 2017. Katherine is the only Independent Woman serving in the Irish Cabinet, after being elected a TD in May 2016 and subsequently appointed as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, where the fight for equality and social justice continues.