Euro Court refuses to legalize same-sex marriage
by Rex Wockner
In a case from Austria, the European Court of Human Rights refused June 24 to effectively force 40 member nations of the Council of Europe to legalize same-sex marriage. The other seven member nations already allow same-sex marriage.
Plaintiffs Horst Michael Schalk and Johann Franz Kopf had argued that Austria violated their rights to marry, to be free from discrimination, and to privacy and family life, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
But the court decided not to "rush to substitute its own judgment in the place of that of national authorities."
The ILGA-Europe board co-chair, Martin K.I. Christensen, said the group was "disappointed" with the ruling but that "Europe as a whole is gradually moving toward full equality for same-sex families."
He said the court also "made various important statements (in its ruling) which will eventually serve to advance legal rights for same-sex families."
Homosexual Initiative Vienna, or HOSI Wien, said Austrian activists had not expected to win the case flat-out because the time is not quite ripe.
"That would have been completely unrealistic to expect since it would have been a precedent with indirect consequences for all member states of the Council of Europe," the group said. "If the court had found a violation in Schalk v. Austria, citizens of ... Russia, Italy, Poland, or Ukraine would also have been able to successfully challenge the ban on same-sex marriage in their countries."
Still, the group had expected a more gay-friendly ruling on the matters of non-discrimination and respect for privacy and family life, which got a 3-4 vote from the court.
"It is once again quite obvious that the court is not running in the forefront of social and societal developments," said HOSI's Kurt Krickler. "The LGBT movement therefore should not rely on international human rights courts in advancing legal progress for LGBT people; it is rather at the political level that we have to continue to struggle for social change and equality.
"We would have expected that the court would have found at least a violation of the right to respect of private and family life guaranteed by Article 8 – in conjunction with Article 14: non-discrimination – of the convention at the time when Schalk and his partner had filed the application as there was no alternative option for them to have their partnership legally recognized," Krickler said. "Austria only introduced registered partnership for same-sex couples as of 1 January 2010."
Gay marriage is legal in Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Mexico City, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.
(ILGA-Europe's long-form name is European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.)
Belarusian activists file UN complaint
Two gay activists in Belarus filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Secretariat in Geneva June 20, charging that Belarusian authorities breached their right to freedom of assembly last December.
Sergey Androsenko, chief organizer of Minsk Gay Pride, and Sergey Praded, editor of the Belarusian magazine Gay: Good As You , were arrested December 16 while picketing the Iranian Embassy in Minsk to protest Iran's treatment of gay people.
They were fined, the fine was upheld by an appeals court, and the Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal.
"We know that the [UN] decision we will get is not binding, but we know that a decision in our favor would be disturbing for the Belarusian government – and in any case we do not have any other option," Androsenko said.
Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, so the activists cannot appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which is where other cases have ended up when gays' legal rights have been trampled in Eastern Europe.
Iran punishes gay sex with the death penalty, although in nearly all the cases that have been publicized, the teens and men who were hanged were accused of additional crimes as well, such as homosexual rape.
In 2008, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied that people are executed solely for having gay sex.
"Homosexuals are not even known who they are to be hanged," he told the Democracy Now radio program. "So, we don't have executions of homosexuals. Of course, we consider it an abhorrent act, but it is not punished through capital punishment."
A year earlier, speaking in New York City, Ahmadinejad had claimed that "we in Iran don't have homo-play (hamjensbaz) like you have in your country."
"In our country ... absolutely such a thing does not exist as a phenomenon," he said. "I don't know who told you otherwise."
Six other nations have the death penalty for gay sex – Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and, in some regions, Nigeria and Somalia.
5,000 march in Lisbon
About 5,000 people marched in the 11th gay Pride Parade in Lisbon, Portugal, on June 19.
Portugal recently legalized same-sex marriage but blocked married gay couples from adopting, which became one focus of the march.
Correspondent João Paulo from PortugalGay.pt said it's "a ridiculous situation where a homosexual person can adopt but only before getting married."
Euro Parliament urges more EU action on trans rights
The European Parliament said June 17 that gender reassignment procedures must be accessible through health care plans, and insisted that future European Union gender equality initiatives address gender identity and reassignment.
In a report evaluating the EU's road map for equality between men and women, the parliament also called on EU authorities to include LGBT organizations in future work on gender equality.
The co-presidents of the parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights, Ulrike Lunacek and Michael Cashman, said the report "represents a true milestone for improving the EU record on gender equality for all – including transgender citizens."
Intergroup vice president Raul Romeva i Rueda said the parliament demonstrated that "the rights of transgender people are of no less importance than other citizens."
"It sent a strong signal, and I trust the [European] Commission will follow our lead and start addressing discrimination based on gender identity more explicitly," he said.
LGBTs take over downtown Tijuana for two days
The border city of Tijuana, Mexico, saw its 15th gay Pride Parade June 19 and, for the first time, the march was accompanied by a festival, which ran for two days on three intersecting streets in the center of downtown.
Several hundred people joined the parade down Avenida Revolución, the main drag of the city center that once was a raucous, pulsing tourist and nightlife district.
The avenue has fallen on hard times from a triple whammy that curtailed tourist crossings from the U.S. First, increased border security after 9/11 created hours-long checkpoint lines to get back to the U.S. Then the U.S. started requiring that Americans returning from Mexican border zones have a passport, which most Americans don't have. Additionally, Tijuana was hit with a violent crime wave in 2008. Although the security situation has improved since last year, the impression persists in southern California that it's not safe to cross the border.
As a result, LGBT residents of Baja California celebrated Pride on their own for the second year in a row, with minimal camaraderie from the other side of the fence. And celebrate they did.
The parade was around 10 times bigger than the first one 15 years ago, and this year's first-ever festival saw LGBT Tijuanans claim the streets of the downtown core for 24 hours.
The free party, which ran from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, spanned three large blocks, stretching south, east and southwest from the giant Tijuana arch.
Three stages offered live music and artistic performances. Vendors sold art, food, and tchotchkes, while other booths provided organizational and HIV information.
Co-sponsors of the festivities included the city and state governments, the tourism committee, a merchants' association, and a brewery.
Bill Kelley contributed to this report.