LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

European Court of Human Rights fails to preserve trans woman’s marriage

On 16 July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgment in the case of Hämäläinen v. Finland. It ruled that Finland did not violate the human rights of a trans woman by requiring that her marriage be downgraded to a registered partnership in order for her to obtain her legal gender recognition.

Before her gender reassignment, Ms Hämäläinen had married a woman. The Finnish authorities argued that legally recognising her gender as female without ending her marriage would result in the existence of a same-sex marriage. Such marriages are not allowed under Finnish law, which requires either that the marriage is downgraded to a registered partnership, or that the couple divorce.

ILGA-Europe is disappointed that the Court requires a trans person to end her marriage in order to be legally recognised in her preferred gender even when both spouses are happy and willing to remain married.

The requirement to end an existing marriage in order to obtain legal gender recognition is one of the legal obstacles trans people still face in 32 out of 49 European countries.

Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said:

“The Finnish authorities argued and the European Court agreed that Ms Hämäläinen’s family did not suffer disproportionately by their marriage being downgraded to a registered partnership as a registered partnership is almost identical to a marriage in terms of rights and protections. Nevertheless, the Court missed an important opportunity to condemn humiliating and discriminatory practices across Europe requiring trans people to end their existing marriage to obtain legal gender recognition.”

According to our Rainbow Europe’s Index (May 2014), Finland came 17th among 49 European countries in terms of laws and policies affecting the human rights of LGBTI people.

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