Legal recognition of same-sex couples: European trend

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The legal recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships is a substantial trend that is currently emerging across Europe, according to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in November 2013 that excluding same-sex couples from any type of legal recognition was discriminatory. This trend highlights the growing support for same-sex partnerships within the European Union (EU). Of the 19 EU member states that have authorized some form of registered partnership other than marriage, Lithuania and Greece were the only countries to reserve it exclusively to different-sex couples. The Court also stated that it makes sense for same-sex couples to be included when any new legal system of registered partnerships is introduced as an alternative to marriage.

The Court made this ruling while deliberating over a law (no. 3719/2008) called “Reforms concerning the family, children and society”, which came into force in Greece on November 26, 2008. The Greek law made provision for an official form of partnership called a “civil union”.

However, under section 1 of the law, a civil union could only be entered into by two adults of opposite sexes, thus excluding same-sex couples from forming a civil union.

This exclusion led to a number of applicants lodging a complaint against the Greek state claiming that the law discriminated against them. Following the lodging of the applications, a hearing was held on January 16, 2013. As a consequence, the Court reiterated that same-sex couples were just as capable as different-sex couples of entering into stable committed relationships. It therefore considered the applicants were in a comparable situation to different-sex couples with regards to their need for legal recognition and protection of their relationships.

The Court stated that the Greek state had to take into account developments in society and the fact that there was not just one way or one choice when it came to leading one’s family or private life and it was therefore necessary to no longer bar same-sex couples from entering into civil unions.

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