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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 deep 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 -- are the first homosexual 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.

Gilligan and Zappone 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.

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