Bulgaria court recognises same-sex marriage in landmark ruling

Crstina Palma and her wife holding a sign reading "LGBTQI family mobility in EU"

A Bulgarian court has recognised a marriage between two women who married in France, the first time that a same-sex union has been acknowledged in the conservative country.

After a two-year court battle, Australian-born Cristina Palma has been granted the right to live and work in Bulgaria with her French wife Mariama Dialo.

The couple married in France in 2016 after 15 years together and later moved to Bulgaria.

In 2017, Palma’s application to continue her residency in the country was rejected after Bulgarian officials deemed her marriage invalid, arguing that same-sex unions are not legal in their country.

She won an initial lawsuit in June 2017. Sofia Pride said that the ruling was “of paramount importance for us as a community because it gives hope to all same-sex couples, regardless of their citizenship, that their families will be recognised in Bulgaria.”

Officials later appealed the decision, but on Wednesday (July 24) a court reinstated Palma’s rights, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling was in accordance with a June 2018 European Court of Justice Ruling (ECJ) which means that EU nations must recognise same-sex marriages from other member states, even if they do not grant marriage equality to their own citizens.

The couple’s lawyer Denitsa Lyubenova said the move could be an important first step towards introducing marriage equality in the country.

LGBT rights in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is one of more than 20 European countries where equal marriage remain illegal, according to the Pew Research Centre.

The country’s constitution explicitly bans same-sex unions, meaning that two-thirds of parliament would need to approve any change to the law.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal, but according to the UK Home Office, “public attitudes [towards LGBT+ people] are less tolerant than in the UK and the LGBT community generally keeps a low profile.”