Austria’s Constitutional Court has thrown out the predominantly Catholic country’s ban on marriage equality, describing it as discriminatory.
Although same-sex couples have been allowed to register their partnerships since 2010, marriage has been defined as only being possible between ‘different sex’ partners.
On Tuesday, the court backed a complaint by two women who were not allowed to register their marriage in Vienna, ruling that the restriction against same-sex marriage cannot be justified.
“The distinction between marriage and civil partnership can no longer be maintained today without discriminating against same-sex couples,” said the court in a statement.
It explained that not allowing same-sex couples to enter into marriage implies that “people with same-sex sexual orientation are not equal to people with heterosexual orientation”.
Under the ruling, marriage equality will automatically come into effect on 1 January 2019, unless legislation allowing same-sex marriage is passed before that date. The country will be joining 15 other European nations that currently provide full marriage equality to their citizens.
Registered partnerships will be allowed to continue to exist as an alternative to marriage for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
A July 2017 poll for Österreich magazine found that 59% of Austrians supported same-sex marriage while 25% were opposed to it.
“We welcome today’s decision by the Constitutional Court to open up marriage for same-sex couples and registered partnerships for couples of different sex”, said Lui Fidelsberger, Chairwoman of the Homosexual Initiative (HOSI) Vienna.
She called for the move to be “accompanied by a comprehensive reform and modernisation of the marital law,” including reducing the amount of time it takes for couples to divorce (up to six years).
ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis described the ruling as “a really positive and refreshingly inclusive judgment” and congratulated the LGBTI activists, legal experts and allies who stood together to call for equality.
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples has been legal in Austria since in 2013. In 2015, the Constitutional Court ordered the state to allow full joint co-adoption by lesbian and gay couples.