LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Croatia not justified in excluding same-sex couples from family reunification process

Blocking same-sex couples from obtaining residence permits for family reunification purposes purely because of their sexual orientation is discriminatory – that is the message of equality coming from Strasbourg.

This afternoon (23 February 2016), the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 14 (non-discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (private and family life) in the case of Pajić v Croatia. It is the first ruling by the Court on family reunification of same-sex couples.

The unanimous Chamber judgment finds that the domestic Aliens Act excluded all same-sex couples from the possibility of obtaining family reunification. The Croatian authorities had not justified this exclusion or provided any convincing reason why same-sex couples were treated differently to different-sex couples. As a result, the ECtHR found that Croatia had violated Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8.

Ms Pajić, a national of Bosnia-Herzegovina, had applied for a Croatian residence permit in 2011. Her attempts to be reunited with her Croatian partner were initially refused by the local police department and subsequent appeals to the interior ministry, Zagreb Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court were all unsuccessful.

ILGA-Europe are very pleased to learn of the positive outcome in this case. “This decision shines a spotlight on the sort of practical discrimination that can have a devastating effect on people’s day-to-day lives. There was no real reason offered by the Croatian authorities for this difference in treatment and we are glad the Court protected the rights of same-sex couples to enjoy their family life, free from discrimination.” said ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis.

The Court also reiterated the point that a cohabiting same-sex couple in a stable partnership falls within the notion of ‘family life’. Also, the Court established the fact that a relationship is still included within the meaning of family life even if the partners are not physically cohabiting together; for example, the immigration policy in this particular case made such physical cohabitation impossible. 

The Court instructed Croatia to pay non-pecuniary damages of EUR 10,000 to Ms Pajić, as well as costs and expenses.