Gay marriage discussed at Council of Europe

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A Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) hearing on the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships will take place in Paris tomorrow.

The 47-member Council of Europe predates the European Union.

It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.

The hearing will involve representatives of the International Lesbian and Gay Association ILGA Europe as well as parliamentarians and academics.

It will also focus on freedom of assembly and expression for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in the Council member states.

“Intolerance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people is still clearly present in our societies,” said Andreas Gross (Switzerland, Socialist), who is preparing a report on the subject.

“This hearing should enable us to better understand the different points of view, even hostility, in certain sectors of society, and look at how to achieve positive change in mentalities and legislation.

“Lesbian and gay people have the same fundamental rights as anyone else,” he said.

The motion on same-sex marriage that will be proposed tomorrow has been backed by British Labour MPs John Austin and Syd Rapson.

“The system of the ECHR is based on certain fundamental principles, including the existence of democratic societies which are tolerant, pluralist and broadminded,” it reads.

“Thus whilst states do enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in matters of morals, a ‘predisposed bias on the part of a heterosexual majority against a homosexual minority’ cannot justify differential treatment or interferences with protected rights.”

The legal situation on same-sex partnerships varies across the Council of Europe area: around 20 countries enable registration of a partnership, while a similar number have no legal recognition at all.

A few countries expressly prohibit same-sex marriage in their constitutions, while three member states currently allow civil marriage of same-sex partners.

Last October’s meeting of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly was dominated by comments made by a Russian religious leader.

Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II had called homosexuality an “illness” and attacked what he called “homosexual propaganda” influencing young people during an address to MPs from across Europe.

The patriarch was there as part of council’s regular debates with political and religious leaders.

He said homosexuality was “an illness and a distortion of the human personality” comparable to kleptomania.

His comments were met with applause by many of the Assembly members present, although some walked out in protest.

The UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was led by former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

He joined parliamentarians from all the assembly’s major political groups saying that any dialogue between cultures and religions must be based on mutual respect and tolerance.