by Rex Wockner
Members of the European Parliament, including the four presidents of the Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, told the European Union’s commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship on Sept. 7 that much more must be done to uphold same-sex couples’ rights as they move around the EU.
“Currently, same-sex couples in a marriage or civil partnership often lose custody, fiscal and consular rights when moving from one EU member state to another – despite EU law guaranteeing freedom of movement,” the Intergroup said.
A 2004 EU directive supports freedom of movement for citizens in same-sex unions, but it has seen “patchy application,” the MEPs said. They urged Commissioner Vivian Reding, who is also vice president of the European Commission, to rectify the problems promptly.
In response to the MEPs’ actions, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said that while the directive “encourages” equal treatment for same-sex partners, it does not obligate EU member states to recognize the civil status of same-sex partners from other EU nations.
As a result, “many same-sex couples effectively have their marriages and registered partnerships de facto voided when they exercise their rights to freedom of movement to countries that do not have an equivalent institution to their civil status,” ILGA-Europe said.
That leads to problems with social security, survivor pensions, medical decision-making, parental ties and other matters, the group said.
In responding to the MEPs’ complaints, however, Reding claimed that current EU law does mandate EU-wide recognition of other nation’s official gay partnerships.
“If you live in a legally recognized same-sex partnership or marriage in country A, you have the right – and that is a fundamental right – to take this status, and the one of your partner, to country B. If not, it is a violation of EU law,” she said.
“When is this going to happen? Now!” Reding added. “Not in five or 10 years. … If there is no understanding (from national governments), then more harsh measures have to be applied.”
She said she is working on the issues through bilateral meetings.
ILGA-Europe, however, disputed Reding’s interpretation of the law, saying: “The response of the Commission was that the legislation is already … providing for just recognition, and that matters of legislation around the recognition of same-sex partners is a domestic issue for the member states to resolve. (W)e cannot agree with the Commission that the Freedom of Movement Directive is already tackling the gaps that the MEPs highlighted. Many same-sex partners are in fact opting not to travel and reside in a number of EU countries due to the implications that non-recognition of their marriages/registered partnerships has on their lives.”
Reding herself must “take political leadership on this issue,” ILGA said, and “initiate actions requiring EU member states to mutually recognize each other’s marriages and partnerships between the persons of the same sex.”
“Only legally binding mutual recognition of such marriages and partnerships will ensure that the fundamental EU principle of freedom of movement will be fully applied to married or in-civil-partnership same-sex couples,” the group said.
Five of the EU’s 27 nations let same-sex couples marry and 14 offer them civil partnerships.