By Lucy Middleton
LONDON, May 23 (Openly) - Romania must legalise same-sex civil unions, Europe's top rights court ruled on Tuesday, in a victory for LGBTQ+ campaigners in the socially conservative southeastern European country.
Twenty-one same-sex couples took Romania to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), arguing the lack of legal recognition of their relationships "deprived them of their dignity as spouses".
In a ruling on Tuesday, the ECHR found the country had violated Article 8 of the European Convention, which protects the right to respect for family life, by not giving LGBTQ+ couples any means of legally safeguarding their relationships.
The Romanian couples cited the disadvantages faced under current domestic laws, such as being barred from mortgage programmes, spousal bereavement leave or joint health insurance.
The ECHR said none of the government's arguments outweighed the couples' concerns, and further ruled that recognising same-sex civil unions would not harm the institution of marriage.
The ruling will become legally binding after a three-month period in which both sides have the right to appeal to a higher court of the ECHR.
If neither do, the ruling will stand and lead to Romania being required to implement legislation to introduce same-sex civil unions.
The Balkan nation of almost 20 million people remains largely socially conservative, ranking 41st out of 49 in the 2023 ranking of European countries' LGBTQ+ rights by advocacy group ILGA-World.
However, in 2021, a survey by Romanian civil rights group Accept Association showed 43% of respondents said they were in favour of legal protection for same-sex relationships.
Seventy-one percent said the move would have no impact on their lives.
Activists welcomed the ECHR's judgement, saying they hoped to see a bill concerning civil partnership, which has stalled in parliament since 2019, finally becoming law.
"For too long we, the LGBTQ+ people in Romania, have been treated as second-class citizens and it is time for a change," said Vlad Viski, executive director of MozaiQ LGBT Association.
(Reporting by Lucy Middleton. Editing by Jon Hemming. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.openlynews.com/)
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