The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), based in Strasbourg, France, sided unanimously with six plaintiffs today, finding Italy's lack of legal recognition and protections for same-sex couples a human rights violation. While the ruling does not compel the Italian state to extend marriage or partnership rights to same-sex couples, it adds critical pressure to the already significant calls for progress on the issue.
Today, Italy is the only major Western European country without any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples. Over the past few years, pressure has been mounting, and despite the relative hold the Catholic Chuch has over the population, recent polls have shown a growing majority support marriage equality. Faced with stagnation on the national level, a number of cities and municipalities, including Rome, Milan, and Naples, have legalized civil union registries, which offer very limited rights to couples.
Following Ireland's legalization of same-sex marriage by popular vote, and now the United States', activists have been increasingly vocal. Ivan Scalfarotto, an openly gay minister in the government, recently went on a hunger strike in protest to Italy's failure to move forward, ending only when the lower house of the Italian parliament approved a bill legalizing same-sex unions.
In its analysis of the decision, the Guardian reports:
"The European court ruling on Tuesday said gay couples were essentially forced to live double lives in Italy: they could live openly in their relationships, but they did not receive any official recognition of their status as a family.
Specifically the court ruled that Italy was in violation of article eight of the European convention on human rights, which provides for the right to respect for privacy and family life."
Importantly, the full release from the ECHR cited the United States Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges when noting legal and social precedents.