European Court: Countries must recognise same-sex partnerships

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The European Court of Human Rights has set precedent that could lead to all 47 member countries granting equal rights to same-sex couples.

In a historic ruling today that stemmed from an Italian rights case, the ECHR ruled that not recognising same-sex couples is a breach of their human rights.

The Court ruled on Tuesday in ‘Oliari and Others v. Italy’ that Italy by offering no legal recognition or union to same-sex couples, Italy was violating their rights.

Italy remains the only major country in Western Europe which does not have legal protections for cohabiting same-sex couples.

However, experts say the case has ramifications that extend beyond Italy – and potentially set precedent for all 47 signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Just 24 of the 47 member states have laws granting legal recognition to same-sex couples.

The ruling could generate controversy in some signatories – including parts of Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia – where tolerance of gay rights is much lower.

European Court: Countries must recognise same-sex partnerships

While the ruling does not immediately bring changes, the Washington Post notes: “Other countries have a right to wait until a formal case is brought against them and to argue in front of the court that their domestic situation differs from that in Italy… [but] on average countries become much more likely to change domestic laws after a ECtHR judgment found violations in similar laws elsewhere.”

Jean Freedberg, Deputy Director of rights charity HRC Global. said: “This ruling makes clear that same-sex partnerships deserve to be recognized, protected, and celebrated, and we urge all signatories to do so.

“From the victorious national referendum in Ireland in May to the historic ruling in the US Supreme Court last month, the momentum for equality reaches around the globe.”

Evan Wolfson, president of US campaign group Freedom to Marry, said: “Today’s ruling affirms that gay people may not be denied the basic human right to form families and requires that all signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights treat their committed relationships with respect and protection under the law.

“It immediately raises the bar in countries that currently provide no legal recognition for same-sex partners, and also brings Europe another big step closer to the freedom to marry continent-wide.

“By talking neighbour to neighbour about who gay people are and why marriage matters, as we did here and our counterparts have done across Europe, from the Netherlands in 2001 to Ireland in May, we will see a critical mass of European states with the freedom to marry and the realization of full equality for hundreds of millions.”

Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship, is currently the only country in Europe that is not a signatory to the ECHR, which was drawn up after the Second World War.

However, British Prime Minister David Cameron has refused to rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights amid re-negotiation of EU membership.