Europe's human rights court has ruled that an Austrian heterosexual couple can't opt for a "lighter" civil partnership. Unlike gay couples, they don't face discrimination, the court ruled.
Austrian pair Helga Ratzenböck and Martin Seydl's bid since 2010 to get their stable relationship registered as a "lighter" civil-law partnership instead of marriage failed Thursday to convince the Strasbourg court.
In its 5-2 majority decision, the European human rights panel said the registration of partnerships under civil law had only been introduced to avoid discrimination against same-sex couples.
In denying them civil partnership status, Austrian authorities and Austrian appeals courts had not breached the anti-discrimination Paragraph 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, decided the ECHR.
Civil partnership status was "only available to same-sex couples," the court said, adding that the Austrian couple's ready "access to marriage satisfied the applicant's principal need for legal recognition."
Starting point different
The couple's situation was not comparable to the fate of same-sex couples who unable to marry in Austria resorted to civil recognition, the panel concluded.
The ECHR also argued that if civil partnerships ended in divorce then - compared to marriage - there were differences in the statutory time limits and obligations following separation.
The seven-judge panel added that its decision could only be reviewed by the ECHR's Grand Chamber, if requested within three months.
Defending its rejection of the couple's civil application had been Austria.
Long legal battle
After the city of Linz denied them civil status in February 2010, Ratzenböck and Seydl had pressed their case in Austria's Administrative and Constitutional courts.
Those chambers too dismissed the couple's complaint and referred the case to the ECHR for final adjudication.
Germany legalizes same-sex marriage
Same-sex marriage, approved by a German parliamentary majority in June, entered into German law on October 1, resulting in dozens tying the knot.
In another first, two Berlin male homosexuals transferred their civil partnership into marriage on October 2 and promptly adopted a two-year-old boy who had lived with them as a foster child since birth.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's initiated June's conscience vote in the Bundestag by dropping decades of conservative objections to homosexual marriage.
The vote was seen by some as a tactical move to deprive her challengers of a campaign issue ahead of September's federal election.
ipj/kms (AFP, Reuters, KNA)