Katherine Zappone reflects on Marriage Equality and her relationship with Ann Louise Gilligan

The former Minister for Children and LGBTQ+ rights activist was speaking as part of ShoutOut's ‘Know Your Queer History’ series.

A smiling older woman on zoom

Katherine Zappone speaks about how she got involved as an LGBTQ+ rights campaigner, her late wife Ann Louise Gilligan and the special memories of the day Marriage Equality was passed in the latest episode of the ShoutOut series ‘Know Your Queer History’.

In the early 1980’s, Zappone met Ann Louise Gilligan in Boston where they were both studying at the time and confides that it was love at first sight. Together they moved back to Ireland and Zappone became an Irish citizen in 1995. They had to keep their relationship under wraps though, as their livelihoods depended on it at the time.

It was only in the early 2000’s that they first became involved in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. “Why did we do it then? Well, we had been doing a lot of other justice work, especially for women and their children in the Tallaght area who didn’t have the same educational opportunities as we did,” Katherine Zappone tells interviewer, Domhnaill Harkin.

“We came to a point where we wanted our life partnership recognised in law. We had been life partners for 20 years and so we started talking to friends about how this is something we want to do and would they join us. And most of the people that we talked to really weren’t that interested, particularly because we said that we weren’t really interested in civil partnership, that we wanted marriage.”

In other countries at the time, those that wanted to challenge the State on same-sex marriage found other couples to launch a challenge with as a group. However, Zappone and Gilligan could not find any to do that with them. So they took on the challenge by themselves.

“At around that time, Canada, in Vancouver, opened its gates for LGBT people. You didn’t have to be a citizen or resident but you could go and get married there.

“We did that and we got married in 2003. We came back to Ireland and we wrote to the revenue commissioner and we wrote ‘could you please recognise our marital status in light of our taxes’ and he or she wrote back and said ‘Dear ladies, no!’ So it was on that basis that we began a major high court case to challenge that ‘no’ and to say ‘yes, we ought to be included in our constitution.’”

It eventually helped lead to the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015.

“What we really are proud of is that spark for the Marriage Equality movement in Ireland came because of love, because of our love affair and our commitment to one another.”

In the interview Katherine Zappone also reflects on her relationship with Ann Louise Gilligan who sadly passed away in 2017. The pair married in Dublin’s City Hall in 2016 following the referendum

“[The relationship] was extraordinary. You know I’m writing a book now about that period and one of the questions I ask is why after such a long time to get there, to get that victory [of Marriage Equality], was our time so short after that? But my answer is that we just had an amazing love affair and relationship for 35 years, even in the context of a more closed Ireland. Love conquers all.”

Know Your Queer History, a series from LGBTQ+ education charity ShoutOut, features interviews with 12 individuals involved the progression of LGBTQ+ equality in Ireland. You can watch it on ShoutOut’s Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram channels.

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