ECtHR: heterosexual couple not allowed to contract sodo-“marriage”

c03hbd_2320723bThe ECtHR has today delivered its decision in the case of Ratzenböck and Seydl v. Austria, concerning a man-woman couple who wanted to conclude a “registered partnership”, because it considered the less committing terms of such a partnership more appealing than those of a normal marriage. The Court decided that the non-availability of such a “registered partnership” for different-sex couples does not constitute discrimination on the grounds of “sexual orientation”. 

The possibility for homosexual couples to concluding “registered partnerships” was introduced in Austria in 2009 with the intention of accommodating the increasingly insistent rights claims of the LGBT lobby, whilst at the same time preserving the unique meaning of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This strategy backfired, however, given that the country’s Constitutional Court has in a series of decisions eliminated most of the differences between the two institutions, and is now considering the possibility of merging them into one on the grounds that, given that there are hardly any differences left, it would be “discriminatory” to maintain two different institutions with two different names.

In that context, the ECtHR’s decision is quite significant, as it confirms that a different treatment of same-sex and different-sex couples is not per se discriminatory. It also relativizes and nuances prior case law such as Oliari and others vs. Italy, clarifying that a “right” of same-sex couples to be “legally recognized” does not necessarily imply a need to provide to them the same status as that conferred to marriage.