A seven-judge panel with the European Court of Human Rights issued its unanimous ruling in a case brought by three gay couples who are unable to marry under current Italian law. The decision does not obligate Italy or other countries within the Council of Europe to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, but it said nuptials for gays and lesbians is one way to legally recognize them.
ILGA-Europe, the Italian League of Human Rights, the European Commission on Sexual Orientation Law and the European Center for Law and Justice are among the organizations that joined the complaint that the three couples filed with the court in 2011.
Rome, Florence, Naples and more than 100 other Italian cities and municipalities have created largely symbolic civil union registries.
The European Court of Human Rights described them as “not sufficiently reliable.”
“The court considered that the legal protection currently available in Italy to same-sex couples — as was shown by the applicants’ situation — not only failed to provide for the core needs relevant to a couple in a stable committed relationship, but it was also not sufficiently reliable,” said the court in a press release that announced the ruling.
The European Court of Human Rights issued its decision roughly five months after Italy’s highest court ruled same-sex couples do not have a right to marry under the country’s constitution. The Court of Cassation in the same decision nevertheless said gays and lesbians should have the same rights as unmarried couples under Italian law.
“Where registration of same-sex unions with the local authorities was possible — only in a small share of municipalities in Italy — this had merely symbolic value, as it did not confer any rights on same-sex couples,” said the European Court of Human Rights.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has proposed the legal recognition of civil unions in the country, but he does not support the extension of marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Hundreds of thousands of opponents of the proposed civil unions bill marched in Rome on June 20. Gay Italian Minister Ivan Scalfarotto earlier this month began a hunger strike in order to pressure the Italian government to act more quickly on the issue.
Italy is the only Western European country in which same-sex couples lack basic legal protections.
“Gays and lesbians are not treated equally in Italy,” Imma Battaglia of the Gay Project, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday after the court announced its ruling.