European Court Determines No Right to Same-Sex Marriage

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

In a unanimous decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that countries are not obliged to allow same-sex marriage.

Reuters is reporting that the Strasbourg-based Court rejected an appeal by two Austrian men who said their country’s refusal to allow same-sex marriage violated the right to marry and prohibition of dicrimination in European rights law.

However, the Court did not agree.

“The court observed that, among Council of Europe member states, there is no consensus regarding same-sex marriage ,” the ECHR said in a statement Thursday.  “The court underlined that national authorities were best placed to assess and respond to the needs of society in this field, given that marriage had deep-rooted social and cultural connotations differing largely from one society to another.”

Considering this, it found it should not “rush to substitute its own judgment in the place of that of national authorities.”

The ECHR is the top court on the European continent and its rulings are binding on all members who have signed the European Convention on Human Rights. Thus far, only seven of the group’s 47 member states have legalized same-sex marriage.

Some experts say the impact of the decision may not be significant.

“It just means that questions of marriage are within the margin of discretion of particular states,” said British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson. “Each state is entitled to have its own marriage law. I don’t think it will have many implications here or elsewhere.”

Gay rights groups applauded other findings by the seven-member court, such as that marriage must not necessarily be limited to people of the opposite sex and that gay couples should be included under the European charter’s definitions of family life.

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