Europe rights chief says all states must approve same-sex unions

A senior European diplomat has directed that all European countries must move towards allowing same-sex unions.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, the Latvian-American Nils Muižnieks, outlined his view in a report today.

In it, he draws on existing international human rights protections to assert that the 47 member states of the Council of Europe must all provide protections same-sex couples.

He wrote: “The 20 member states of the Council of Europe that still do not provide any legal recognition to same-sex couples should enact legislation to create – at the very least – registered partnerships that ensure that privileges, obligations or benefits available to married or registered different-sex partners are equally available to same-sex partners.

“All states should ensure that legislation exists to provide registered same-sex couple with the same rights and benefits as married or registered different-sex couples, for example in the areas of social security, taxes, employment and pension benefits, freedom of movement, family reunification, parental rights and inheritance.”

The Council of Europe is distinct from the European Union and has a broader membership – including Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.

Mr Muižnieks stops short of calling for same-sex marriage to become a uniform standard, however, noting that “international human rights law currently does not create an obligation on states to allow same-sex couples to marry”.

The commissioner explains: “There are arguments in favour of providing access to civil marriage to same-sex couples. One is to ensure that the rights available to same-sex and to different-sex couples are truly equal.

“Indeed, more often than not, registered partnerships offer a pared-down selection of rights, leaving aside more controversial issues such as adoption of children or medically assisted procreation.

“My opinion is that genuine commitment to full equality would at least require states to seriously consider opening up civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The report notes that 27 of the 47 member states currently offer some form of recognition for same-sex partnerships, 13 of which recognise same-sex marriage.

20 member states offer no recognition for same-sex couples.

The body has little power to enforce the recommendation, but oversees the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled on same-sex unions previously.