Romania fails to uphold same-sex couples' rights, European court rules

People taking part in a LGBTQ+ parade pass by a bus stop that has anti-LGBT graffiti message sprayed on it

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania has failed to enforce the rights of same-sex couples by refusing to recognise their relationships, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said on Tuesday in a ruling which will force policymakers to expand protections for the LGBT community.

Socially conservative Romania decriminalised homosexuality in 2001, decades later than other parts of the European Union, but still bars marriage and civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

The ruling, which says the government has breached the European convention on human rights, comes after 21 Romanian same-sex couples filed challenged with the court in 2019-2020.

The couples argued Romania's failure to recognise them as families discriminated against them in various instances including healthcare decisions, joint medical insurance, property and employment rights only afforded to married couples.

The Romanian government has three months to decide whether it wants to ask the European court to refer the case to its top chamber.

"The ruling comes with an enforcement mechanism ... so that the Romanian state must account for what it is doing to recognise and adopt a form of legal protection for same-sex families," Iustina Ionescu, the human rights lawyer who argued the case, told a news conference.

Three legislative proposals to change civil unions to include same-sex couples filed between 2016 and 2019 have not yet made it through parliamentary approval committees, the court said, while four similar draft laws had been rejected by 2020.

A referendum to change Romania's constitution to prevent same sex couples from securing the right to marry failed to draw enough voters in 2018.

A survey commissioned by LGBT rights group ACCEPT in 2021 found that 71% of Romanians said that legal recognition of civil marriage for same-sex couples would not have any impact on their lives, while only 43% were in favour of it.

(This story has been corrected to clarify that the ECHR is a European court, not an EU court, in the headline)

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Nick Macfie)