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European Court of Human Rights Condemns Greece for Banning Same-Sex Civil Unions

–Christina M. Akrivopoulou, Greek Refugee Appeals Authority

On November 7, the European Court of Human Rights decided Vallianatos and others v. Greece, which condemned Greece for banning same-sex civil unions. Law 3719/2008 introduced civil unions within Greece as an alternative to the institution of marriage for heterosexual couples that share stable relationships, but excluded same-sex couples from its scope. Four same-sex couples, as well as members and representatives of Greek gay-rights organizations, brought a claim in front of the Court, claiming that the Law discriminated against homosexuals under Article 14 of the European Convention and violated their rights to privacy and family life under Article 8 of the ECHR.

The Greek government argued that the purpose of the Law was not to acknowledge civil unions as a substitute to the institution of marriage but rather to regulate stable heterosexual relationships and provide their subjects with property and inheritance rights, as well as parental rights and obligations. The Greek government also pointed out that one of the main aims of the Law was to regulate the rights of children born in civil unions. According to this line of argument, Law 3719/2008 was merely tracking social evolution in the field of family law and by no means aimed to exclude same sex couples from its scope.

The Strasbourg Court was not persuaded by this argument. The ECtHR pointed out its prior jurisprudence finding that same-sex relationships are included in the scope of family life according to Article 8 of the European Convention (Shalk and Kopf v. Austria, No 30141/04). In Vallianatos, the Court after performing a proportionality test concluded that Law 3719/2008 was not pursuing any legitimate aim that could justify the exclusion of same-sex couples from its scope. As the Court has observed there is a perfect analogy between heterosexual and homosexual couples as far as their needs for mutual assistance, companionship and care are concerned. Thus, their exclusion from the scope of recognized civil unions was not necessary to a democratic society.

Lastly, the Court noted that the Greek position was virtually unique in Europe. Elsewhere in Europe, whenever civil unions were introduced, they included cohabitation and family rights for same-sex couples. According to the Court, nine member states of the Council of Europe recognize same-sex marriage while seventeen out of nineteen states with the institution of civil unions extend the protection of that institution to same-sex couples. Only Lithuania and Greece have reserved civil unions exclusively for heterosexual couples.

The Vallianatos case thus leaves Greece somewhat isolated from majoritarian tendencies within the rest of the Council of Europe member states regarding the acknowledgment of family rights to same sex couples. The European Court of Human Rights’ condemnation of Greece may pave the way for a new understanding on this issue.

Suggested Citation: Christina M. Akrivopoulou, European Court of Human Rights Condemns Greece for Banning Same-Sex Civil Unions, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Nov. 28, 2013, available at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2013/11/european-court-of-human-rights-condemns-greece-for-banning-same-sex-civil-unions

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Published on November 28, 2013
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