Austrian government to recognise same-sex civil unions

Wed, Nov 18, 2009, 00:00

THE GOVERNMENT of Austria has cleared the way for state recognition of same-sex civil unions from the start of next year.

The necessary legislation was agreed yesterday in a compromise between the ruling Social Democrats (SPÖ) and their junior, conservative coalition partners, the People's Party (ÖVP). It gives same-sex couples identical rights to married couples in financial affairs such as tax, pension and maintenance.

Adoption rights and access to artificial insemination as a couple will not be granted.

Under pressure from the conservatives, same-sex couples will not be able to register their partnership in a ceremony at their local registry office. SPÖ women's affairs minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, who was responsible for the legislation, said the law was "incomplete" with a registry office ban and said it was only a "temporary" measure.

"I think this is something we will keep under discussion," said SPÖ chancellor Werner Faymann of the deal, reached yesterday at 6am after an all-night negotiating session. Meanwhile ÖVP leader Josef Pröll said his party had "gone far enough" by "agreeing to what was possible".

The law has come in for heavy criticism in conservative Austrian society, and has been attacked as "unnecessary" by Catholic bishops.

Gay rights campaigners have brushed off the criticism and welcomed the legislation as part of a European trend. "What the church has to finally accept is that the question of state recognition of all forms of relationship is a state and not a religious matter," said Marco Schreuder, a Green city councillor in Vienna, to Die Presse newspaper.

At a gay rights march in Vienna there were mixed feelings towards the new legislation.

"Homos should be allowed make the same mistakes as heteros!" read one marcher's sign, a nod to a total of 37 points of difference in the new legislation with the rights and obligations of married couples.

"They can take the new law and stick it," said 30-something Erich from Vienna, in a relationship for 10 years.

"This law makes us into second-class citizens."