European Marriage Puzzle: Gays In or Out?
Sometimes gay couples in Europe are trapped in a sort of Kafkian scenario when they try to register their relationship status. It can be a harrowing experience, which leads to discrimination against gay couples within EU member states. The portraits of three affected individuals illustrate just how frustrating this can be.
Kaisa is a Finnish citizen who has lived in France for the past 15 years. Together with her French partner they were able to register their relationship in France, where both partners were afforded equal parenting rights. While French legislation does not allow second parent adoption, they were nevertheless able to obtain legal guardianship for both their children, who now have Finnish citizenship.
This may seem simple enough, however this is where simplicity ends. The bureaucratic red tape can quickly spiral out of control. On the one hand, Finland recognises second parent adoption, but the Finnish legal system does not recognise the French legal partnership. Under Finnish law, Kaisa is a single mom of two children. On the other hand, adoption exists in France but they have no chances to get it, since it is only available for heterosexual married couples. They were trapped in this situation for long enough to understand that the only valid solution is to dissolve the French partnership, move to Finland, register their partnership there, get the adoption and only then move back to France. Sounds like a very complicated plan, but it looks like the only one that might work. In this case France would recognise their Finnish partnership as well as the adoption. Kaisa’s partner will get a legal right to make decisions in their children’s lives. The children will be able to have both parents’ names as well as qualify for inheritance. (Kaisa discusses her situation here.)
This is a very important case that exemplifies both the differing levels of acceptance of gay marriage in EU countries as well as the loopholes in EU legislation to get around them. Countries within the EU have different views and an understanding of same-sex marriages, therefore marriage in one country is not necessarily recognised in another.
What is Marriage? European Perspective
So the question is: Who should decide what marriage is: politicians, the church or citizens themselves? In what way are same-sex marriages different from heterosexual ones? For centuries societies have perceived marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Societies have changed, evolved over the time and many boundaries have shifted. At the same time, many people define marriage in traditional terms, which means that the rights of gays and lesbians are neglected around the world. Things become rather controversial and debatable when politicians touch upon the topic of same-sex marriages.
Over the past decades gay people were fighting for simple human rights: to be recognised, accepted and not discriminated. Nevertheless gays are still facing various discriminatory issues, same-sex marriage is only one of them.
There are only seven countries in Europe that recognise gay marriage: Spain, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Iceland. Eleven EU member states recognise and register same-sex partnership, but there is a lack of mutual recognition of these partnerships if couples travel within the EU.
These different legal systems violate couples’ rights for free movement within the union, one of the fundamental principles of the European Union. This key right of EU citizens is different for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Every member state decides for itself which type of family resides within its borders. This lack of standardised understanding on the matter also violates the right to family reunification from third country nationals, since it simply becomes unavailable for same-sex families.
European Movement International, a lobbying organisation that works towards promoting European integration, sees the solution in creation of an Official Family Record Book. This initiative will simplify the process of officially registering birth, marriage and death for all European citizens.
Discrimination and Misunderstanding
Same-sex couples across the EU are discriminated not only on the grounds of adoption rights, but also on the grounds of employment-related payments, such as pensions, taxation, insurance, etc. For example, France, the Czech Republic and Slovakia recognise same-sex partnerships, but does not allow a favourable taxation plan for gay couples’ pensions.
German citizen Jürgen Römer has lived with his partner from 1969 and has worked for the City of Hamburg for 40 years. According to German law, married pensioners benefit from more favourable taxation, but the City of Hamburg did not apply this category to Jürgen and his partner in 2001. It was said that this tax category can be applied to married pensioners only (for more information see here).
Natasha and her partner registered their relationship in Germany in 2003. She personally did not encounter much of a bureaucratic hassle or any obstacles to register the partnership. German laws were changed accordingly and the whole procedure was rather simplified. Due to the fact that Natasha has not moved across borders, she didn’t need to deal with the recognition status of other countries. Natasha points out that she encountered more discrimination and biased attitude on a personal level, not a structural one. For example, students from her German class first laughed at her when she said she has a wife. They thought Natasha wanted to say “husband” and mistakenly used the wrong word.
Marriage or registered partnerships should gain the same protection and recognition as heterosexual couples have in other European countries. As Kaisa points out: “It is not about the fact of recognition, it is about people who travel from one country to another or relocate from one country to another.”