Romania forced to legalize same-sex civil unions by Europe’s top human rights court

By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

The Romanian government must legislate to formally recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples, Europe’s top human rights court has ruled.

In a judgment issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday, the socially conservative Eastern European country was ruled to be in violation of the right to respect for private and family life by refusing to acknowledge the civil unions of same-sex couples.

The case was brought to the Strasbourg court by 21 same-sex Romanian couples whose requests to marry had been rejected by their local registry offices due to Romanian law stating that marriage can only be entered into by a man and a woman.

Since same-sex civil unions are not recognized in the country, the complainants had no other way of legally safeguarding their relationships; they also faced problems regarding joint mortgage eligibility, spousal bereavement leave, and joint health insurance.

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However, Romania has long been opposed to same-sex marriage. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that only 26 percent of Romanians supported same-sex marriage, and a 2019 Eurobarometer poll found that only 29 percent of Romanians thought same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, while 63 percent were against it.

By a vote of five to two, the ECHR found that the Romanian government “had a duty to provide adequate recognition and protection for same-sex relationships, although it had discretion as to the form and the protections afforded.”

It rejected the notion that the government’s objections to same-sex marriage outweigh the applicants’ interest in having their unions recognized.

The court added that “allowing recognition of same-sex unions would not harm the institution of marriage, as opposite-sex couples could still marry.”

The Romanian state now has a three-month period in which to appeal to a higher court within the ECHR; failure to do so will see the ruling become legally binding, forcing the government to legislate in favor of same-sex civil partnerships.

The new ruling follows a pattern in conservative nations of courts overruling the presumed rule of the people. For example, in Slovenia, the nation had rejected legalizing same-sex marriage in three national referendums only for the nation’s highest court to overrule these referendums and force the state to make same-sex marriage legal.

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