European Court Official: All E.U. Nations Must Recognize Rights of Same-Sex Couples

Clai Hamilton and Adrian Coman

Romania does not have marriage equality — but it may soon have to recognize the rights of same-sex spouses.

Melchior Wathelet, the advocate general of the European Court in Luxembourg, issued an opinion that Romania and all member states of the European Union must recognize these rights.

The opinion came about after Romanian officials refused to grant residency to Claibourn Hamilton, an American who married his Romanian partner, Adrian Coman, in Brussels in 2010, reports The Guardian. The country does not recognize any form of legal union between those of the same gender.

Under the E.U.'s 2004 freedom of movement principle, member states are required to grant residency to citizens' spouses from non-E.U. countries. Previously, the term "spouse" had been undefined.

The gay couple, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, challenged the decision of Romanian authorities. The case was eventually referred to Luxembourg court, which determined that "spouse" is gender-neutral and includes same-sex partners. 

"Although member states are free to authorize marriage between persons of the same sex or not, they may not impede the freedom of residence of an E.U. citizen by refusing to grant his or her spouse of the same sex, a national of a non-E.U. country, a right of permanent residence in their territory," said Wathelet.

The majority of E.U. nations have marriage equality, but some offer civil unions with equivalent or limited rights. In addition to Romania, other E.U. countries that have no legislation recognizing same-sex unions or marriages include Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria.

The opinions of advocate generals are nonbinding, but are generally followed by the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the E.U. The case will be decided by a national court or tribunal later this year.

The move was hailed by LGBT activists.

"This is fantastic news and a landmark opinion for rainbow families," Sophie in ‘t Veld, the Dutch member of the European Parliament, told The Guardian. "Freedom of movement is a right of all E.U. citizens; it cannot be restricted because of whom they love. The European Union protects our rights."

*A previous version of this article called Wathelet's statement a directive, not an opinion. The Advocate regrets this error.

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