In a landmark ruling that directly bypasses national legislation, the European Court of Human Rights found that the Greek state should accord homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual ones when it comes to state-sanctioned, alternative forms of marriage.
The Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled last week that Greece was discriminating against same-sex couples, by not recognising their right to participate in ‘civil unions’. The concept of ‘civil unions’ was introduced into Greek law in 2008 and allowed for alternative, more flexible forms of marriage for couples of different sex.
The case was brought to the ECHR in 2009 by Gregory Vallianatos, a gender rights and civil liberties activist, and seven others, all in same-sex relationships. The Grand Chamber, by a majority of 16 to one, also ruled that the Greek state should award damages to seven of the applicants and cover the legal costs incurred by all eight of them.
Another, possibly more important consequence of the ‘Vallianatos and others against Greece’ case, is that for the first time the ECHR posits a “specific legislative solution to a social problem that has allegedly not been solved by the national legislator”. According to the November 7 judgment, “the Court is no longer a mere ‘negative legislator’: it assumes the role of a supra-national ‘positive legislator’ which intervenes directly in the face of a supposed legislative omission by a State Party”.
The court’s remit is to uphold the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In the Vallianatos case, the court found that Greece had violated article 14 of the convention in conjunction with article 8, pertaining to discrimination based on sexual orientation.