Same-Gender Couples in the EU Have Rights, Regardless of Bans

A top EU court has affirmed that, even in nations that ban same-gender marriage, same-gender couples do have key spousal rights, like the right to residency.

The case, which involved a man from Romania who wanted to have his US husband come live with him in Romania, was brought before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after going through Romania’s constitutional court.

Romanian officials argued that EU law does not compel the country to recognize the US-born man as having a right to residency based on his relationship with a Romanian citizen. Romania bans same-gender marriages, so the country argues that it doesn’t have to recognize the two men as “spouses”.

The couple, Adrian Coman and his American partner Clai Hamilton, were lawfully married in Brussels in 2010, meaning that they had secured a marriage license in a country that does recognize same-gender marriages.

The ECJ, issuing its decision on Tuesday, June 5, said that, “Although the member states have the freedom whether or not to authorise marriage between persons of the same sex,” they cannot “obstruct the freedom of residence of an EU citizen”.

What this Decision Does and Does Not Do

The hinge to this decision was that by marrying his partner in a state where EU residency is granted, Hamilton became an EU citizen. Regardless of whether he travels to countries that do not recognize same-gender marriage, his status as an EU citizen cannot be revoked simply because the mechanism by which he was granted residency — in this case a same-gender marriage — is not recognized in that particular state.

In effect, Romania cannot deny EU citizenship that has been lawfully conferred by another member state. This ruling severely weakens Romania’s ability to argue that the partnership doesn’t exist, because it manifestly does. And now it’s technically protected under EU law.

Romania had argued that citizenship laws only apply to opposite-gender spouses. The ECJ rebuffed that claim, saying that when it comes to EU citizenship and spousal rights, it is clear that in this case “spouse” is and must be gender neutral.

Countries like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia continue to ban same-gender marriage and, as it stands, the EU holds that this is an individual nation’s right. However, this ruling makes it incontrovertibly clear that such nations cannot deny an EU citizen their rights, including spousal rights.

The ruling does not legalize same-gender marriage across the EU, but it does enshrine something very important: married same-gender couples must be granted the same right to travel across the EU as their heterosexual counterparts.

This puts a big dent in Europe’s remaining same-gender marriage bans, because the same reasoning applies for other key spousal benefits — something that the European courts have already shown sympathy toward.

“We can now look in the eyes of any public official in Romania and across the E.U. with certainty that our relationship is equally valuable and equally relevant,” Coman is quoted as saying. “It is human dignity that wins today.”

How far this ruling extends will have to be adjudicated separately, but in terms of practical matters, it could be powerful. One key area that springs to mind is spousal recognition in hospitals.

Other areas, like tax and inheritance rights, which are more closely tied with domestic financial policy, may fall outside of its scope. Even then, we can see that once partnership rights are recognized in one area, it becomes harder to deny them in others.

It is abundantly clear at this point that Europe’s courts are slowly narrowing the amount of leeway they believe can be afforded to nations who ban same-gender marriage. It now does seem likely that, within the next five years, there will come a ruling that undoes same-gender marriage bans in their entirety.

This latest ruling certainly takes a definitive step in that direction.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W4 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Chrissie R
Chrissie R10 months ago

Thanks for posting.

Loredana V
Loredana V10 months ago

Despite the EU, they haven't in many European countries. Italy, for example. No matter what the law says, people are narrow minded and, what is worse, politicians are a mass of hypocrite bigots

Winn A
Winn A10 months ago


Anne M
Anne Moran10 months ago

Absolutely do !!

Margaret G
Margaret Goodman10 months ago

RK R wrote, “ Who foresees further instances of Brexit within the EU? …” I can see possible exits by the right wing nationalist countries. Trump and Putin are doing a good job of trying to weaken the EU and human rights.

Cathy B
Cathy B10 months ago


Alea C
Alea C10 months ago

Only religion zealots care about who is having sex with whom. I'm a happy atheist who doesn't give a rat's a**.

Susanne Wiesneth
Susanne Wiesneth10 months ago

Small side note: contrary to years existing european agreements, Romania, as well as the majority of eastern european countries, refuses to take in refugees from all over the world, but at the same time demanding european financial support for it's own economy. Any questions? Same-gender-couples are just a welcome opportunity to escape reponsibility and progress, to maintain the own Status quo. My plate, my habits....but it's a matter of fact, every plate has also a point, over which it can/could/should be looked out, isn't it?

Lisa M
Lisa M10 months ago