Gay couples with civil marriages or civil partnerships must retain their rights in all European Union countries, the European Parliament reaffirmed this morning.
Currently, same-sex couples are not guaranteed to retain the rights given by their existing marriage or civil partnership when travelling in the European Union.
In its just-adopted report on civil, commercial, family and private international law, the European Parliament “strongly supports plans to enable the mutual recognition of the effects of civil status documents”, and “stresses the need to ensure mutual recognition” of such documents by EU countries.
This entails recognising the effects of all existing marriages and partnerships when citizens move in the EU.
Following this vote, the European Commission will now have to propose ways to enable mutual recognition of all partnerships and marriages throughout the EU.
“This is a great development for the many couples and families who see their fundamental rights diminished every day when crossing a border inside the EU,” said Ulrike Lunacek MEP, co-president of the European Parliament’s all-party Intergroup on LGBT Rights
“It’s a vote for equality: everyone should retain their existing rights when travelling in the EU,” she pointed out.
At present a marriage certificate is recognised by other countries when a couple move abroad, but the same isn’t true of other legal documents.
Conservative groups in the Parliament had advised against the measure, arguing that it risked undermining national sovereignty.
UK Tory MEPs were defeated in an attempt to block the call for equal treatment for people in same-sex partnerships.
The newly elected leader of the Conservative MEPs, Martin Callanan, had tabled amendments to specifically delete references to “civil status documents” which proposed extending this type of “mutual recognition” to civil partnerships.
But this measure, as passed by the European Parliament. strengthens the universality of fundamental rights for EU residents across borders in the European Union, supporters argued, adding that it does not change national laws on civil unions, which remain a national prerogative.
“It follows the Commission’s assertion in September that freedom of movement must be guaranteed for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Claims that mutual recognition will ‘undermine national sovereignty’ are plain wrong: it won’t affect national marriage or partnership laws, but simply recognise civil unions that already exist,” said Michael Cashman, the other co-president of the Intergroup.
Arlene McCarthy MEP, UK Labour’s spokesperson on the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, also welcomed the decision.
“Currently same sex couples who have a civil partnership in the UK can find themselves losing their rights when travelling to other countries in the European Union,” she said.
“In Britain we recognise the status of other countries’ civil partnerships but that isn’t always true for British people who move abroad.
“I am shocked that a Tory MEP felt the need to table amendments to this report deleting the reference to civil partnerships,” she said. “They seem to be saying that people in a civil partnership in the UK don’t deserve to have their partnership recognised when travelling abroad.”
While today’s vote will not result in immediate changes to the law on this issue, it is seen in Brussels as an important step in the preparation of legislation that is expected to be proposed by the European Commission next year.