Austria gets civil partnerships
November 19th, 2009
The battle over marriage equality is, in many ways, a battle over minutia, the details of which differ by location.
In the United States, in some states any concession of even the least controversial of rights is a great contention, while in others, the line in the sand appears to be protecting the “sanctity” of the label.
As an American, I don’t always fully understand European perspectives and may not get the full nuance. But as best I can tell, in Europe there seems to be a separate contention, one that is not given much importance in the United State: whether a ceremony can be performed and what building can be used. (And Europeans see adoption as part of the marriage question, while Americans see the issues as separate and state laws tend to treat them separately).
So, for example, in the UK the biggest distinction between marriage and civil unions (other than nomenclature) is that a gay couple cannot use a space that has been designated for religious use and cannot have a ceremony as part of their legal process.
To Americans it seems odd that a government would disallow a church the right to conduct a wedding. And the idea of banning people from conducting their union with the ceremony of their choice seems impending on liberty. In the United States, not only do the states that recognize marriage have no such restrictions, neither do any of the states that recognize domestic partnerships or civil unions. Americans care about “recognition” and what will be “taught in schools” and the “right” for religious folks to be obnoxious jerks and other such red herrings.
Indeed, among the first to rejoice with gay couples are always Unitarian and often many other religious leaders who delight in making their religious space available for the consecration of such unions. With as much ceremony as the couple desires.
But that is not the European way.
So it is not with much surprise that the new bill in Austria to legalize civil unions is one that emphasizes ceremony and participants. (AFP)
Austria’s government agreed a new law Tuesday allowing civil partnerships for homosexual couples, although ceremonies at the civil registry’s office will still be banned.
The compromise, achieved after weeks of wrangling between the ruling Social Democrats and their conservative coalition partner in government, will give gay couples equal rights to heterosexuals with regards to pensions and alimony.
The proposal came up against strong opposition from the conservative People’s Party, which fought any attempts to allow civil partnership ceremonies at the civil registry’s office, where gay couples can marry.
Instead, civil partnerships will be registered at the municipal office or the magistrate’s office — the local authority of which the registry’s office is only a part.
The change will be effective January 1 after final approval by parliament.
This is an important step for gay Austrians (not many of whom are like Bruno).
Prior to this legislation, laws applying to de facto couples, called unregistered cohabitation, also applied to same-sex couples as the result of a 2003 decision of the European Court of Human Rights. However such rights inherent in that status were limited and the protections and recognition of same-sex couples are greatly enhanced by this bill.
And perhaps some day soon Austrians will cease to care whether their gay brothers and sisters can also solemnize their unions with a ceremony and in what building they do so.