Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. What do these countries all have in common? They’re all members of the European Union which have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage. Whilst marriage equality has been advancing in the US, in the EU the number of countries with marriage bans is increasing. Why is equality in the EU stagnant, or even in reverse, whilst the US is advancing?
A major issue is that EU refuses to set clear boundaries on what is expected of member states regarding LGBT rights. Whilst member states face multiple loopholes to jump through before they can join the EU, in everything from taxes to trade laws, they face fewer requirements to guarantee the rights of their LGBT citizens. Indeed it’s why we had until earlier this week the disgraceful situation of homosexuality still being illegal in Northern Cyprus, even though Cyprus has been a member state for 10 years. To the EU many LGBT rights are the remit of national governments, not a united requirement for all members.
Meanwhile the European Court of Justice has come out in favour of some LGBT rights, like the right to a civil union and equal benefits. However the European Court of Justice has refused to take a legal stance that backs marriage equality. Whilst the US Supreme Court came out powerfully last year, declaring California’s marriage ban unlawful, the ECJ has refused to recognise the right to marry for LGBT people.
What do UK MEPs have to say? The UK has multiple MEPs that are members of the LGBT Intergroup, a cross parliamentary group that fights for LGBT rights in the European Parliament. On marriage equality in the EU Michael Cashman Labour MEP and co-spokesperson for the LGBT Intergroup said:
“The EU countries are progressing on equal marriage and civil partnerships but there have been religious backed set backs in Croatia and Lithuania.”
“Marriage laws are not under the control of the EU, and that includes the European Parliament. They remain the sole responsibility of each member state. Nonetheless the European Parliament is pushing for progressive change on equal marriage.”
Lib Dem Fiona Hall MEP and fellow intergroup member said: “While it is not the role of the EU to impose on member states on matters of social issues, it has a fundamental duty to protect the human rights of all citizens.”
We achieved an important step toward that goal in 2010 when MEPs voted to ensure the rights of married couples, regardless of sexual orientation, are recognised throughout the Union. Free movement of people and closer integration is a powerful force for change. The spread of more inclusive social norms will help corrode outdated views of marriage.”
There seems to be a consensus here that the EU cannot interfere with setting marriage law across the EU. Is this the correct stance, or should a principle part of being in the EU be guaranteeing a right to marriage equality? To do so would certainly be a brave and unequivocal statement of belief in equality.