AMERICA:LIKE MANY married couples in their 50s, Annie Rogers and Íde O'Carroll are thinking about retirement. The pair plan to move from Amherst, Massachusetts, to Lismore, Co Waterford, where they already have a house.
Íde, who is Irish, runs an international social research consultancy that takes her to Ireland for work, often for months at a time. Annie, who teaches psychology at the nearby university, spends as much time as she can in Ireland but, as a US citizen, can only stay for three months at a time.
"We've literally been doing this for 13 years and thankfully, her work here allows her to spend summers in Ireland and we have each Christmas there. But I continue to travel over and back all the time because most of my work is still done in Ireland," Íde says.
"We are in some respects inhibited from having the kind of life we want to have by the sort of immigration legislation that's in place because of the nature of our same-sex marriage and relationship. Were we heterosexual, we could both be dual citizens and navigate both places freely and choose to live where we want."
Although Annie and Íde got married in Massachusetts in 2005, they have no such option in Ireland, an inhibition that is threatening to wreck their retirement plans.
"Annie would still be asked on entry, whether she's 65 or 68, 'are you staying for three months?'
"We can't plan, you know, the way that heterosexual married couples can, around how we want to spend the latter years of our lives, despite the fact that we've maintained very close relationships with my family and friends in Ireland."
Annie and Íde are one of at least 1,173 same-sex couples in the United States that include an Irish partner, according to a new study by Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute, UCLA.
The 2006 census found that there were 2,090 same-sex couples living in Ireland, so if US-based couples with an Irish partner were added, they would account for more than one third of the total.
Most Irish people in a US-based same-sex partnership are women, they are highly educated, their average age is about 40, and one in seven are raising children.
Gates believes that Ireland's failure to introduce same-sex marriage or partnership legislation is preventing the country from reaping the economic benefit these people would bring by returning home.
"There's evidence that this is a pretty highly-educated group and in fact among Irish immigrants who come to the US, this group is particularly well-educated. More than 40 per cent have a college degree, whereas among other Irish immigrants to the US, it's only about 30 per cent.
"In that sense, you're getting some level of economic benefit," he says.
"But I actually think that the bigger benefits come in terms of the fact that Ireland is an economy that has quite a few global companies that need to be able to move their personnel around easily across national borders.
"I think that legal recognition, at least for one section of their employees, for gay and lesbian people . . . both in a very practical way but also as a signal to employers that says, 'we're making this as easy as we can for you and this is just one obstacle we're taking out of your way,' I think all of that has positive economic benefits."
Gates says that, given the huge movement of returning emigrants back to Ireland in recent years, it's reasonable to assume that many of those in gay partnerships in the US would welcome the opportunity to go home.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) says that Irish business is alert to the potential economic benefits of giving full civil rights to gay people.
Íde believes that Irish society is ready for such a move and that any popular resistance feared by politicians is more imagined than real. "My experience in Ireland has been very, very positive, as somebody who works as an 'out' person, with family and friends living in a small town in Ireland," she says.
"So I think it's a question of the politicians not reading the climate of change in a way that I think that they should."