European Human Rights Court Opens Proceedings on Heterosexual Couples´ Exclusion from Registered Partnership
27 March 2015
By their opposition to marriage equality conservatives risk marriage light for heterosexuals
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has opened proceedings on the exclusion of opposite-gender couples (Ratzenböck & Seydl v Austria). Over 99% of applications can’t make it to this stage. Austria has until 25 June to give reasons for offering registered partnership solely to same-gender couples. 2013 the Court found exclusion of same-gender couples from registered partnership in Greece in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights (Vallianatos v Greece, Grand Chamber). Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL), Austria’s LGBT civil rights organisation, reminds the Conservative Party that they, with continued opposition ot marriage equality, risk marriage light for heterosexuals.
Helga Ratzenböck and Martin Seydl for many years have been living in a stable partnership and they have an adult daughter. Traditional civil marriage never was an attractive option for them. So they never married.
Registered partnership, introduced in 2010, much more fits to their idea of a modern legal institution for couples. It, for instance, has shorter waiting-periods for divorce and carries lesser maintenance-obligations after divorce. There is no obligation to monogamy, but instead a duty to a comprehensive relationship of trust. The couple does not wish further children, and so they don’t care about the numerous discriminations of registered partners in the care for children. In addition restriction, solely on the basis of sex, of a new legal institution introduced in the 21st century they consider intrinsically discriminating.
No strict scrutiny for discrimination of heterosexuals
Helga Ratzenböck and Martin Seydl asked the City of Linz to allow them to register their partnership and took their case up to the Constitutional Court. The 13 judges in their decision of 22 September 2011 (B 1405/109) declared admissible their exclusion from registered partnership. Heterosexuals, they said, are not a historically disadvantaged group (par. 23). Their exclusion from registered partnership rests within the legislature’s margin of appreciation.
In sharp contrast to its case-law on discrimination of homosexual couples, the judges in the case of the heterosexual couple did not apply a strict scrutiny test, establishing whether their exclusion from registered partnership is necessary for “particularly serious reasons”.
With the support of Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL), Austria’s LGBT civil rights organisation, the couple took its case to the European Court of Human Rights, which now opened proceedings and communicated the application to the Austrian government (Ratzenböck & Seydl v Austria). Over 99% of applications can’t make it to this stage. The Austrian government has until 25 June to give reasons for offering registered partnership solely to same-gender couples. 2013 the Court found exclusion of same-gender couples from registered partnership in Greece in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights (Vallianatos v Greece, Grand Chamber).
Do the conservatives want to undermine marriage?
„We homosexuals are asking for equal rights and equal obligations, we do not want to be disdavantaged“, RKL says, “We, however, neither want preferential treatment for us and disadvantage for heterosexuals”. “Protection against discrimination should not be a one-way road; heterosexuals must be protected as strictly as homosexuals”.
„The conservatives should quickly abolish registered partnership and implement marriage equality“, says Dr. Helmut Graupner, president of Austria’s LGBT civil rights organisation Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL) and counsel of Ms. Ratzenböck und Mr. Seydl, “It could be the last chance to prevent marriage light for heterosexuals which really has the potential of undermining marriage by opening up an alternative for the many opposite-gender couples”. “We know that many in the Conservative Party disapprove of a marriage light much more than of marriage equality for same-sex couples.”