By Lin Taylor
LONDON, June 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A ruling by the European Union's top court recognising same-sex marriages, even in EU countries where it is banned, is a landmark that reflects new attitudes to gay rights, the lawyer who led the case said on Tuesday.
In a case which has highlighted social differences between western Europe and a more conservative east, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Romania must grant residence to the U.S. husband of a local man, even though the country does not itself permit same-sex marriage.
"It is a very clear statement that the court is moving the goal forward in terms of achieving equal rights for gay families," said Jacquelyn MacLennan, partner at Brussels-based White and Case, which was the pro bono legal team that represented the couple.
"What the court is doing is reflecting a change in social attitudes. It's a very important evolution of EU law and it is not an overstatement to say that this is a landmark ruling," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
The court ruled on Tuesday that Romania must treat American Clai Hamilton as Adrian Coman's spouse under EU law and accept the validity of their 2010 Belgian marriage.
The case arose because Hamilton's right as a non-EU citizen to live in Romania permanently was dependent on his status as Coman's spouse. Coman challenged a Romanian decision to limit Hamilton's residence to a three-month visa, and a Romanian court referred the matter to the ECJ in Luxembourg.
Coman welcomed the ruling as a validation of their marriage.
"We can now look in the eyes of any public official in Romania and across the EU with certainty that our relationship is equally valuable and equally relevant for the purpose of free movement within the EU," he said in a statement.
The case did not touch on the freedom of member states to set their own matrimony laws, although campaigners have called on Brussels to push states to legalise same-sex marriage as a fundamental human right. Rather, it upheld rights of EU citizens to move freely across the bloc along with their families.
"It will increase legal protection and certainty for same-sex couples – something that should not be underestimated," said Arpi Avetisyan from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
"This clarity will be felt not just by couples in Romania, but all over the EU, highlighting the power of strategic litigation and the enduring relevance of the EU and its laws in people's lives," said Avetisyan, a lawyer at the group's European branch.
The European Commission insisted the ruling was not part of a push from Brussels to force same-sex marriages in the bloc.
The ruling comes amid a similar case in Hong Kong, where a British lesbian on Monday sued the director of immigration for denying her a spousal visa after her partner moved to the Chinese-ruled financial hub for work, even though they had entered into a civil partnership in Britain. (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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