European Court of Human Rights finds that Greece must allow same-sex civil partnerships

Timothy Kincaid

November 7th, 2013

In the evolution of thinking on marriage equality in Europe, several nations started with a marriage-lite structure, a recognition of couples which stopped short of full rights and obligations of marriage. Ironically, this proved to be popular with some straight couples who wanted a less formal structure, an intro-level recognition while they decided whether they wanted a full marriage.

In 2008, to meet the demand for limited couple recognition, Greece decided, “Yes, let’s do that gay couple thing… but with a twist.” So they created civil partnerships, a formalization of rights of cohabiting couples and – turning the idea on its head – they specifically excluded gay couples.

Several same-sex couples challenged the law in the European Court of Human Rights and the decision has been made. (AFP)

Civil unions should not be reserved for heterosexual couples, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Thursday, condemning Greece for creating a “life partner” legal category that excludes gays.

Judges in Strasbourg said that authorities in Orthodox Christian Greece had not offered “convincing and weighty reasons capable of justifying the exclusion of same-sex couples” when passing a 2008 law.

The judges noted that a European Union member of the Council of Europe need not offer marriage rights or even couple recognition to same-sex couples. But if they create new structures as an alternative to marriage, they cannot make restrictions based on sexual orientation.

The ruling applies to Greece and possibly to Lithuania, which also offers straights-only non-marriage couple recognition.

[NOTE: The heading was revised]

Steve

November 7th, 2013

Hahaha. Hoisted by their own petard.

TampaZeke

November 7th, 2013

OPA!

tavdy79

November 8th, 2013

Correction: this was NOT a decision by either of the European Union courts (the Court of First Instance or the Court of Justice).

This was a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which has a much larger jurisdiction that includes every European (or partly-European) state other than Kazakhstan, Vatican, Kosovo and Belarus. I.e. this ruling affects countries like Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

The ECHR is generally recognised as being the best hope of legalising gay marriage in many of these countries, and this ruling brought that day much closer. However, the number of European countries that have legalised gay marriage will have a big influence on any future rulings, so the real emphasis is still on lobbying state legislatures. Of the big nine, only three (Great Britain, Spain and France) have legalised so far. Of the remaining six, only Germany is likely to legalise within the next decade, and even then only if Angela Merkel loses the next general election. For Italy and Turkey, legalisation might come in the late 2020s or 2030s. For Russia, Ukraine and (probably) Poland, it will almost definitely be forced by the ECHR.

There are some smaller states that are worth watching too. Russia has been promoting homophobic violence throughout eastern Europe as a means of preventing countries from joining the EU or (in the case of Poland, Lavia and Lithuania) persuading them to leave. However in some cases the tactic is either not working or even backfiring. Anti-Russian sentiment in Georgia has always been high (Russia has been engaged in a proxy war with them for over a decade, via the Ossetians) and the Georgian president has publicly condemned Russian-style “gay propaganda” bans as a result. Moldova repealed its own “gay propaganda” ban quite recently, effectively choosing the EU over Russia.

Marek

November 8th, 2013

tavdy79 is right. And the two different courts in Europe are always confusing. By the way – neither has a status any close to SCOTUS.

But I think tavdy79 is too optimistic: European Court of Human Rights rules only on limited basis of European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, the Court has already a few times refused to recognize the right to marriage for gays and lesbians. Contrary to tavdy79 I don’t expect this court to be the way to marriage equality in Russia, Ukraine and Poland.

My bets, if at all, would go towards EU and not ECoHR.

Poland: a few steps. Poland could introduce some form of limited partnership – by itself (there have been a few debates already, even some right-wing politicians have been supportive, although wingnuts stay strong…) or forced by EU. Good news from ECoHR now is that any such regulation would need to cover in the same way all couples independent of sex. And maybe EU would at some point force recognizing foreign same-sex marriages? The issues of freedom of relocation are strong in EU and not-equal rights for already married couples is one of issues that does limit such a freedom. This would also mean that Polish citizens could marry abroad and such marriage would be recognized in Poland. And then maybe people would get used to this, the emotions would cool down, and Polish parliament could introduce marriage equality? Note also that lots of young Poles work in Germany (with a gay Minister of Foreign Affairs, for example) or UK (with recent introduction of marriage equality) – they will come back home with less stereotypes and more open minds.

Ukraine: if it leans towards EU because of economic benefits, it might go the Polish way. I would not bid a lot of money on it though. Atm Ukraine is not even officially associated with EU. Btw, I wonder to what extend a notion of an “Associated Country” could be used to create pressure on future candidates to EU. This could already influence e.g. Serbia and Turkey, but could also influence Ukraine if it ever wanted to get associated. Still EU has to homogenize situation internally first.

Russia: no hope for marriage in predictable future imho. Ofc no member of EU. And as I said ECoHR is not going to recognize the right to marriage for everyone.

Marek

November 8th, 2013

TLDR: the title is wrong: it is _not_ a ruling directly related to EU.

Timothy Kincaid

November 8th, 2013

Thanks to those who caught the error. The posting is revised.

Jean-Michel

November 9th, 2013

@Marek: Atm Ukraine is not even officially associated with EU.

They’ve applied for associated status and the EU Council of Ministers will meet on the 18th to decide whether to accept it. Right now the biggest potential stumbling block isn’t anything related to GLBT rights, but a stalled bill to release ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko for medical treatment in Germany.

JohnAGJ

November 9th, 2013

Is that Antinous in the photo, lover of Hadrian? If so, ugh. Not something I care to associate with since the young man was 13 when thei relationship started.

Ben in Oakland

November 9th, 2013

He was also roman– well byhthnian– and not a Greek.

Cass

November 9th, 2013

JohnAGJ….

Ancient Greece – The average age of first marriage for girl was 14 years, their husbands were at least 30.

Photos of ancient husbands or wives…ugh!

Timothy Kincaid

November 9th, 2013

It’s Alexander

JohnAGJ

November 9th, 2013

Cass: Indeed; sometimes to men even older just to cement a business or political alliance. What makes you think that I find girls being treat as cattle any better?

Timothy: ah, okay. Knew I had seen it before but couldn’t remember exactly who this was. I guessed wrong, my bad. Bit of a brute Alexandet was but I have no issues with his ADULT male lover.

Neil

November 9th, 2013

Civil Unions are often bargained by conservatives as a compromise toward fencing off traditional marriage from same-sex recognition. Yet the evidence from France and the Netherlands suggests that once you allow for a skim milk version of marriage, lots of opposite-sex couple go for it – leading to a decline in the marriage rate.

Offering civil partnerships and marriage to opposite-sex couples but neither to same-sex couples fails both the conservative and the liberal agenda. You end up with a decline in traditional marriage and a denial of gay rights.

The Greek situation sounds like a case where a court decision on equality will actually do the country the favour of partially gratifying at least one side of the debate.

tavdy79

November 11th, 2013

Marek: there was an ECHR ruling several years ago (I think the case may have been brought by an Austrian couple) that amounted to “we’ll rule in favour of gay marriage if/when there is a clear majority of CoE states and population in favour”. Since ECHR rulings are ordinarily binding on all CoE member states, this means the ECHR remains a probability for legalisation in Russia.

The ECHR could rule in favour of gay marriage in a more limited form sooner than that however. If the Republic of Ireland votes to legalise gay marriage in the 2015 referendum, Northern Ireland would be isolated in not having marriage equality. There is majority support in the Northern Ireland Assembly, however legalisation is being blocked by a group of MLAs through a provision of the Good Friday Agreement which allows a majority of either of the two main political blocs (Nationalists and Unionists) to block legislation they dislike. This means that as few as 22 MLAs can block legislation supported by the other 86.

Because there is majority support in the Assembly, and because the other three Home Nations and ROI (may) have already legalised, the ECHR’s “clear majority” can be proven to exist in both the province itself and the wider British Isles, so IMO a ruling in favour of equality is likely in that instance.

Marek

November 12th, 2013

You mean the ruling http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-99605 ? Really interesting – I didn’t know about it, thanks!

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