ECJ ruling ensures some rights for same-sex spouses across emerging Europe

The effects of a ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) are beginning to be felt across emerging Europe. In early June, the court ruled that EU countries must recognise the immigration rights of same-sex spouses, regardless whether same-sex marriage is legal in the respective EU country.

The case was brought by a same-sex couple: Adrian Coman, a Romanian citizen, and his husband, Robert Hamilton, from the US. They married in Belgium some years ago, and when they returned to Romania, they expected Mr Hamilton to gain automatic residency rights based on their Belgian marriage certificate.

Romania, however, does not recognise same-sex marriages, including those concluded abroad. As the couple’s request contradicted Romania’s Civil Code, the Romanian constitutional court referred the case to the ECJ, which eventually ruled that Mr Hamilton should be granted residency based on his marriage to Mr Coman, but that Romania would not be under any obligation to recognise the marriage per se.

While some LGBT activists have stated that the decision brings Romania one step closer to legalising civil partnerships for same-sex couples, opponents of same-sex unions see things differently.

Ana-Corina Sacrieru, a lawyer for the Romanian Family Coaliton, a coalition of religious and pro-life groups supported by the Romanian Orthodox Church stated, “the decision of the [ECJ] refers exclusively to the right of residency and it reaffirms national competencies when it comes to deciding on the definition of marriage.”

The ECJ decision has, however, set a precedent: a Bulgarian court backed the right of a same-sex married couple to reside in the country for the first time in a landmark ruling earlier this month. The Sofia City Administrative Court ruled that the French-Australian couple should be allowed to live in Bulgaria together.

Hristo Hristev, a lawyer, said, “it is logical that, when there is a legally registered marriage in one EU member state, all other member states are committed to recognising that marriage.”

Mr Coman and Mr Hamilton’s story also has a happy ending: acting on the ECJ’s decision, the Romanian constitutional court this week ruled that Mr Hamilton be granted Romanian residency.

However, Iustina Ionescu, a human rights lawyer at ACCEPT, an NGO which defends the rights of LGBT persons in Romania, said that while the decision was an important first step, Mr Coman and Mr Hamilton are under Romanian law “only a little bit married.”

“This ambiguous situation could lead to the fragmentation of the rights of family members,” she said.

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