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Austria gets civil partnerships

Timothy Kincaid

November 19th, 2009

austriaThe 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.



November 19th, 2009 | LINK

The big difference is that most European countries have official state religions (Catholic in Austria, I believe). That said, most of them also seem to do a better job than the US at keeping religious and secular life separated. And I’m not entirely certain they’d object if a recognized sect without official state affiliation chose to celebrate same-sex unions.

Timothy (TRiG)
November 19th, 2009 | LINK

In the UK, a registry office wedding is not allowed to have any religious content. You couldn’t even play a Bach mass.

And a civil partnership can be held only in a registry office, not elsewhere.

Therefore, all civil partnerships have to be non-religious ceremonies.

Awkward. And silly.


Personally, I prefer the French method of marriages: all weddings are non-religious and are held in the town hall. It is customary, but by no means necessary, to then head down the road to the church and have the priest bless your marriage. I think this allows for a clearer demarcation in people’s minds of the multiple different parts of a marriage. Oddly, France doesn’t yet have marriage equality, and its civil partnerships are not nearly as strong as those in the UK.

And here in Ireland we have nothing, yet. And Brian Cowen isn’t returning my letters. (He’s the Taoiseach, and also my TD.)


Timothy Kincaid
November 19th, 2009 | LINK


I know that a bill for Civil Partnership has been published in Ireland and was expected to become law before year’s end.

Has there been any progress or any change in expectation?

Jutta Zalud
November 20th, 2009 | LINK

The Austrian state does not *disallow* any church wedding, but only a civil marriage (usually at the townhall) or (in the future) a registration of partnerschip will entail any legal consquences. It’s like in France: once you have obtained your civil marriage you can go to the priest of your choice and have a church wedding.

There is no “state religion” in Austria, but the Roman Catholic church is still very important and influential (ca 75%). In fact, when we say “the church”, we mean RC. There is a protestant minority (5%), other denominations are even much smaller. So, it won’t be easy to find a priest or preacher to celebrate a same-sex wedding in the near future in Austria.

The dispute about the building and the ceremony ist mostly political and about symbols: of course it would be obvious to have the same civil-servants who are in charge of marriages also have perform registrations of partnerships, because they know how to do the job. But the conservative People’s Party just wanted to make registered partnerships distinct from marriage. The location is one of those (symbolic) disctinctions. The name is another one. A registered partner will have to apply for a name-change if he or she wants to have the partner’s last name and the last name will be called just that (“Nachname”) instead of “family name” (“Familenname”) … which means that a lot of official papers will have to be redesigned, so at least the paper producing and printing companies will have a benefit ;o)

November 20th, 2009 | LINK

The Bill is supposed to come into effect next year, IIRC, but “published” in our laws doesn’t mean ratified, really. It could still be undone, it has to still go through another vote….maybe TRiG understands it better then I, I’m also Irish but politically apathetic…

November 20th, 2009 | LINK

I’m an American citizen legally married to my Austrian same-sex partner. Oddly enough, I can get full Austrian citizenship as the spouse of an Austrian citizen. It involves jumping through quite a few hoops, but it is available. If we were to live in our apartment in Vienna, we would be recognized as legally married in Austria.

I really appreciate this blog and read it every day. Thanks for the great work!

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