The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that European states are not obliged to legalise gay marriage although it does view gay partnerships as “family”.

The Strasbourg-based court had been approached by two Austrian men who claimed that their human rights had been infringed by Austria’s failure to legalise same-sex marriage.

Four out of seven of the judges decided, however, that this did not breach the European Convention on Human Rights adopted by the 47 member states of the Council of Europe.

The court said that the issue of same-sex marriage should be decided by individual states because marriage had “deep-rooted social and cultural connotations which may differ largely from one society to another”.

On a positive note, it did conclude that “a cohabiting same-sex couple living in a stable partnership, fell within the notion of ‘family life’, just as the relationship of a different-sex couple in the same situation would”.

According to LGBT rights organisation ILGA-Europe this is the first time that the European Court of Human Rights has referred to same-sex unions as families in relation to the European Convention of Human Rights.

“We are disappointed that on this occasion the Court employed a less proactive approach and limited itself to stating that the issue is within the legal competence of individual countries. Having said that, we believe the Court made various important statements which will eventually serve to advance legal rights for same-sex families,” commented Martin K.I. Christensen, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe.

To-date only seven of the 47 European Council member states offer their citizens full marriage equality, namely: Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Portugal and Sweden.

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