A seven-judge Supreme Court has unanimously ruled the first marriage of a Lebanese man with two wives can be recognised under Irish law, writes Ann O'Loughlin.
While taking the view the man’s second marriage is not valid under Irish law while the first marriage subsists, that did not mean such a marriage can never have legal consequences here, the court held.
Those conclusions were subject to the right of the Oireachtas to consider and legislate for issues of public policy “subject to, and in conformity with, the Constitution”, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley said.
The decision in the case by a Libyan man, who became an Irish citizen in 2000, has implications for other polygamous marriages here.
Mr Justice Frank Clarke expressed the view there was a “strong imperative” that urgent attention be given to whether legislation should be enacted.
The 64-year-old man, who secured refugee status here in 2000, had appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court’s finding that his marriage to his first wife in Lebanon could not be recognised under Irish law. The man married his first wife in 1975 and his second wife in 1988. Both marriages were in Lebanon.
He has lived here since 1988 and his second wife came here in 2001. He has children by both wives. Under Lebanese law, a man can have up to four wives.
He sought to have his first wife enter here in 2003 but she was refused permission. In 2004, she was permitted enter on condition he take a legal action as to whether his first marriage could be recognised under Irish law.
After the High Court ruled his first marriage could not be recognised under Irish law, he appealed. Both wives supported his case which was opposed by the Attorney General
In her judgment today, with whom the other judges agreed, Ms Justice O’Malley said the Constitution and Irish public policy “clearly envisage a marriage as being a union between two people, based on the principle of equality and mutual commitment”.
There is therefore no bar to the recognition of a marriage that is in fact monogamous, where the only objection is that the system of law under which the couple married would permit more than one marriage, she said.
Recognition should be afforded as of the date of inception of the marriage, and should not be withdrawn in the event of a second or subsequent marriage by the husband, she said.
The judge ruled the appeal should be allowed and the man was entitled to a declaration that his marriage to his first wife was valid as of the date of its inception.
In his concurring judgment, Mr Justice Clarke said there appeared to be “a very strong imperative” that urgent attention be given to whether legislation should be enacted for the purpose of bringing certainty to the question of whether, and to what extent, the fact a marriage may be valid in another country might legitimately affect some rights and obligations of parties here even though Irish law would not recognise the marriage at issue.