Marriage Equality: In Europe, a Human Right?

I have shown before how marriage equality has been spreading relentlessly across Europe, but in some cases (as in the UK), this takes the form of strong civil unions rather than full marriage. There are also a few countries, notable staunchly Catholic Italy and Poland, which are holding out. This could change.

(Dark blue – full marriage; light blue – civil unions; yellow – legislation in preparation; red – prohibited.)

The European Union has been drawing ever more closely together politically, and in the field of human rights. As some British conservatives have found to their costs, there have been numerous cases where European human rights directives have forced changes in British law. Now, an Austrian couple have taken their fight for the right to marry to the European Court of human Rights. On the face of it, the prospects are good. The court has a good record on LGBT rights, and the parameters are clear: human rights are defined to guarantee both the right to marry, and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of orientation.

“Their European case argues that in refusing them a marriage license, Austria violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights that guarantee the rights to marry, protect one’s property and not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation.”

However, there is a catch. The couple, Horst Michael Schalk and Johann Franz Kopf, first sought their marriage licence in 2002. After a succession of unsuccessful appeals in Austria, it reached the European court, where it has taken five years just to get a hearing. (In the meantime, Austria has already introduced civil unions). The wheels of justice turn slowly.

From Bay Window:

Euro Court considers same-sex marriage case

The European Court of Human Rights held its first-ever hearing in a same-sex marriage case Feb. 25.

The hearing considered the admissibility and merits of a case from Austria, Schalk and Kopf v. Austria. A decision on those points will be forthcoming.

The court granted permission to Prof. Robert Wintemute to make oral submissions on behalf of four intervening parties: the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association; the Advice on Individual Rights in Europe Center; the International Commission of Jurists; and the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme.

Horst Michael Schalk and Johann Franz Kopf are a gay couple in Vienna. They were denied a marriage license in 2002 by the Vienna Municipal Office, which said people of the same sex can’t marry.

The couple appealed to Vienna’s regional governor and then the Constitutional Court, losing both times.

Their European case argues that in refusing them a marriage license, Austria violated articles of the European Convention on Human Rights that guarantee the rights to marry, protect one’s property and not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation.

The sometimes notoriously slow ECHR has been sitting on the case for more than five years.

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