The Associated Press reported European Court of Justice Advocate General Melchior Wathelet issued an opinion that he said is not about whether European Union countries should extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Wathelet did say, however, they should extend spousal benefits in a way that does not infringe “on the rights of citizens of the (European) Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states.”
Wathelet issued his opinion in the case of Adrian Coman, a Romanian citizen, and his American husband, Clay Hamilton.
Coman and Hamilton, who currently live in New York, legally married in Belgium in 2010. The Associated Press reported the men since 2012 has been asking the Romanian government to recognize his marriage.
Romania currently bans gays and lesbians from legally marrying, but it does not prohibit civil partnerships between same-sex or heterosexual couples. Opponents of marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2015 collected 3 million signatures in support of a referendum on whether to amend the country’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Romania’s Constitutional Court asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on the men’s case.
The European Court of Justice is expected to rule later this year. The Associated Press reported the judges often “follow the reasoning laid out by advocates general,” even though the judges are not legally bound to Wathelet’s opinion.
Same-sex couples can legally marry in Ireland, the U.K. outside of Northern Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Malta.
Austria’s Constitutional Court last month ruled same-sex couples will be able to legally marry by the beginning of 2019. Italy, Greece, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus have either allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships or extended other forms of limited legal recognition to them.
Same-sex couples can legally marry in Iceland, which is not a member of the European Union. Gays and lesbians in Switzerland, which is also not a member of the European Union, have been able to register their partnerships since 2007.
The Associated Press reported Coman and Claibourn’s case is the first time the European Court of Justice will consider whether the European Union’s directive that allows European citizens and their families to “move and reside freely” within the bloc’s 28 countries applies to same-sex couples who are married.
Wathelet issued his opinion two days after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark opinion that recognizes marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Western Hemisphere.
The ruling is legally binding in Costa Rica and 19 other countries — Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Suriname, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Barbados — that recognize the American Convention on Human Rights. It also states the countries must allow transgender people to legally change their name and gender marker on official documents.