LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

As the US rules on equality, Europe must wake up to consensus and recognise same-sex couples

On a momentous day for LGBTI equality campaigners, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled that state-level bans on equal marriage are unconstitutional. 

This landmark decision heralds the arrival of marriage equality in all 50 states; a move that is warmly welcomed by ILGA-Europe.

This decision is a boost, not only for millions of couples living in the US, but it could also precipitate great change much closer to home. ILGA-Europe have campaigned for equal treatment of all couples since 1996 but the fact is that many loving and committed families remain unrecognised across Europe. Our continent’s highest human rights court should now take time to reflect on the situation as it currently stands in Europe.

Previous cases related to same-sex couples rights heard by the European Court of Human Rights, such as Schalk and Kopf v Austria capture the limbo-like position occupied by same-sex couples in some European countries.  In that particular case, same-sex couples are recognised as ‘family’ but the court’s interpretation of the Convention right to marriage remains limited to between men and women only. Neither does the Court recognise other forms of legal recognition for same-sex couples such as civil unions. The reason for this was that there was no evidence of a European consensus in favour of legal recognition of same-sex couples.

We believe this European consensus argument no longer holds any weight. In our latest Rainbow Europe Index, we see that 23 countries out of the 49 included in the Index provide legal recognition in various forms.

“Surely this inexorable social movement toward equal marriage is a strong indication of a general consensus? If Europe intends to continue to present itself as a champion of human rights to the rest of the world, then it should take this equality evolution into account. Interpretation of the European Convention right should always be grounded in reality; recognition of same-sex families is very much a European reality.” said ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis.

“The timing of the judgment was very appropriate as it coincides with the anniversaries of two other historic SCOTUS decisions on marriage equality and LGBTI rights. Part of the infamous Defence of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional on 26 June 2013, while bans on same-sex sexual activity were overruled on the same date in 2003. ILGA-Europe hope that an historic day for same-sex couples across Europe might not be too far away.”