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EU's same-sex policy

Interview: Conor Dillon
November 30, 2013

European parliamentarian Michael Cashman tells DW what the EU can do to help LGBT people against restrictive national laws. More importantly, he tells DW what it cannot do and how the EU parliament hopes to change that.

Two hands clasp one another in front of a stone, European building. Photo: PATRICK LAVAUD
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: How is the European Parliament reacting to Croatia's referendum on whether or not to ban same-sex marriage?

Michael Cashman: We hope that common sense prevails, and that a majority does not define the right of a minority, which would effectively try to exclude them from celebrating and committing to long-term relationships. European Parliament has clearly called on Croatian politicians to have the courage to lead on this - and not to follow the very strong Catholic religious lobby.

Beyond public statements, what can parliament do?

Family law and the definition of marriage remain the sole power of every single member state. So, we have no effective hard power. We have soft powers - and that is why we call on them.

Michael Cashman looks off-camera, his hand on his chin.
Cashman hopes Croatians will endorse same-sex marriageImage: Alexis Haulot/European Parliament 2012

Is there any talk of an EU umbrella law protecting same-sex marriage in all member states?

We've been calling for it in the parliament. I think ultimately these issues will go through to the European Court of Human Rights, where they will seem to be - and will be ruled - inhumane and unjust. It's also a question of making one of the founding benefits of the European Union - freedom of movement - a reality for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. At the moment, if you're in a same-sex civil partnership or marriage, and you travel to a country where those rights are not granted, your rights are diminished. This prevents the freedom of movement of LGBT people. We may be able to argue this at the European Court of Justice.

But apart from the parliament pressing its wishes, and the Commission speaking in favor [of same-sex marriage], in the end, it's up to the member states to do the right thing.

But couldn't someone say, "Hold on a second. The EU's calling on national parliaments to be courageous and do the right thing, and then Europe's own parliament sits back and lets its courts deal with it?"

The parliament's been consistent in its defense of equality, and we're now working on a roadmap to equality. We'll deliver it to the Commission, and then to member states - what we believe they should do to guarantee the human rights of LGBT people.

However, the European Union must never become a dictator that seizes power from a member state (as some would have you believe the United Kingdom), because then it loses its very legitimacy. Laws that are imposed from outside are often resisted - or kept, and the imposer is blamed.

Who else is fighting for LGBT people in those EU countries where their rights are restricted?

More and more companies are saying, "We want to come and do business in your country, but currently, if we do, we can't bring our LBGT staff, and it's going to affect our decisions on where we actually set up business, or our corporate profiles." Google springs to mind, Amazon, others. So it makes no sense for these countries, because good talent isn't the sole domain of heterosexuals in lifelong, committed partnerships.

Is Croatia a one-off, or is Europe swinging in that direction?

It's incredible if you go back and look at one of the founding countries of the European concept, France, and the amazing opposition - largely religiously organized - against the concept of equality. And this in a country where you have "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité." Then you shift to another founding country, Italy, where again, because of religious opposition and political cowardice, you see no action being taken.

We've seen other member states jump up and down about LGBT people. It's usually when it suits them because of bad economic or domestic news at home. When I was in Zagreb with the International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intergender Organization for their annual conference, I found it a warm, inclusive, welcoming city. I believe the Croatian people are that, and I hope they vote the right way.

Michael Cashman is the president of the European Parliament's Intergroup on gay and lesbian issues.