The European Union is on the precipice of taking a major step forward for LGBTQ rights.
Advocate General Melchior Wathelet, a top advisor to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), said in a Thursday opinion that EU member countries must grant residency rights to same-sex couples. This includes the six states which offer no partner benefits or legal recognition of LGBTQ relationships: Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.
His legal advice was offered in regards to a case brought forward by Adrian Coman, a Romanian national who has been lobbying for permanent residence rights for his husband, Claibourn Robert Hamilton.
The two were wed in Belgium eight years ago, but Romania does not recognize their relationship as valid.
Wathelet stated that such countries are “are free to provide or not for marriage for persons of the same sex.” But in a written opinion to the court, he claimed the 28 states which currently claim membership in the European Union cannot limit “the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.”
The advocate general added that the country’s top court regards the term “spouse” as “neutral” in regards to gender and nonspecific “to the place where that marriage was contracted.”
Thus, a same-sex marriage conducted in Belgium would confer residence rights in Romania.
Although Wathelet’s input as an advisor to the court is nonbinding, LGBTQ advocates hailed one passage in particular as signaling further movement from the EU’s top court. He claimed that the term “marriage” had undergone an “evolution [in] societies of the member states in the last decade” and could no longer be understood to denote “a union between two persons of the opposite sex.”
The ECJ is set to further deliberate on the case and may choose to ignore his advice in its eventual findings. But as the BBC notes, judges presiding at the Luxembourg-based bench “have generally followed the advocate's lead” in their past decision-making.
Whatever conclusion the court reaches will be sent back to Romania’s national court, which will make its final decision. It previously lobbied for the EU’s input on the issue.
The gay couple at the center of the ongoing legal battle celebrated Thursday’s written opinion as a significant step toward the full recognition of their residency rights as a same-sex couple. Hamilton claimed the two are “overjoyed.”
"It shows the Romanian authorities were wrong to refuse to treat us as a family,” he said in a written statement provided to the media. “Romanian citizens can't be divided into good and gay. We can't be treated as inferior citizens, lacking equal rights, based on prejudices that some have about homosexuality.”
Romania is currently considering a referendum which would add an amendment to its constitution banning same-sex marriages. Controversial Rowan County, Ky. clerk Kim Davis traveled to the country last year in support of the measure.
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