EU states must recognise residency rights of same-sex spouses, ECJ rules

European Court of Justice ruling on Romanian case is hailed as a victory for dignity

Adrian Coman, who took a case  on the rights of same-sex unions, at a press conference in Bucharest, Romania. File photograph: Daniel  Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

Adrian Coman, who took a case on the rights of same-sex unions, at a press conference in Bucharest, Romania. File photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

 

EU countries that have not legalised same-sex marriage must respect the residency rights of spouses who are of the same sex and want to live together in their territory, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled, in a move hailed as a victory for human dignity.

The ECJ said member states must recognise the rights of all married couples to free movement, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.

The ruling came in response to a case in which Romanian authorities were accused of discriminating against Adrian Coman, who wanted to be able to build a life in his home country with his American husband, Claibourn Robert Hamilton, with whom he lived for four years in the US before they married in Brussels in 2010.

Romanian authorities refused to grant the right of residence to Hamilton on the grounds that he could not be classified in Romania as the spouse of an EU citizen. The men had appealed to Romania’s constitutional court, which referred the case to Luxembourg.

Romania is one of six EU member states – along with Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia – that do not legally recognise same-sex unions.

But the ECJ ruled that while EU countries retain “the freedom whether or not to authorise marriage between persons of the same sex, they may not obstruct the freedom of residence of an EU citizen by refusing to grant his same-sex spouse, a national of a country that is not an EU member state, a derived right of residence in their territory”.

The term “spouse” was said to refer to a person joined to another person by marriage.

It was, the court said, a gender-neutral term and “may therefore cover the same-sex spouse of an EU citizen”.

‘Equally valuable’

Responding to the ruling, Coman said: “We can now look in the eyes of any public official in Romania and across the EU with certainty that our relationship is equally valuable and equally relevant, for the purpose of free movement within the EU.

“We are grateful to the EU court and to the many people and institutions who have supported us, and through us other same-sex couples in a similar situation. It is human dignity that wins today.”

Hamilton, speaking via video link from New York, said: “We are one step closer to being recognised as a family and I am truly elated.”

The court said the ruling did not diminish the democratic choices of Romania, but merely observed that the sexual orientation of the married couple offered no justification for obstructing free movement.

Opposition to same-sex relationships can be strong in Romania, where homosexuality was only decriminalised in 2002.

Coman’s father, Liviu, told the Associated Press he was pleased with the ruling, which would make some aspects of their lives easier. “They are happy together and get on well,” he said. – Guardian