Starting 2019 same-sex couples can wed in the land where edelweiss grows in the alpine meadows. Austria’s Constitutional Court reversed a law that limited same-sex unions to be designated as civil partnerships.
Austria is just catching up in the modern game, now being the 16th European nation to institute marriage equality. Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands (where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2001), France and Britain have already established equalizing legislation. Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic have yet to initiate marriage equality, but do allow civil partnerships, similar to Austria’s soon-to-expire policy, with some equivalent rights. Former Eastern Bloc countries—Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Poland — do not yet recognize same-sex unions. Surprised?
Legal partnerships have been permitted in Austria since 2010, at that time granting same-sex couples the rights already enjoyed by heterosexual couples, such as adoption and support for fertility treatments. The remaining hurdle towards total equality was sexual orientation.
The nation’s top court overturned the law in response to a complaint from two women, already in a legal partnership, who wanted to be formally married but were denied this right by Vienna authorities. The new regulation will be in effect January 1, 2019. This would be a fine New Year’s to celebrate in the land of Mozart.
Likewise, heterosexual couples will have the option of being classified into a civil partnership if they want the benefits of a union without the rigmarole of a traditional marriage.
“Today, the differentiation between marriage and legally registered partnerships can no longer be upheld without discriminating against same-sex couples,” the court said. “For the separation into two legal institutions implies that homosexual individuals are not equal to heterosexuals.”
Sebastian Kurz, elected in October to be chancellor, soon to be sworn in, is the leader of the Austrian People’s Party, which accepts the Constitutional Court’s ruling. The far-right Freedom Party has the opposite view.
“Now there is equal treatment for something that’s not equal,” said a statement from Herbert Kickl, the Freedom Party’s secretary general.
Shut up, Kickl.
The Freedom Party says marriage should remain traditional between a man and woman only, and it is intended for procreation. Austrian Roman Catholic Church officials echoed this backwards sentiment. Unfortunately, these entities still carry significant clout in Austria.
Regardless, the longtime culturally viable Austria has made the logical, ethical step to make equality into law. Helmut Graupner, the lawyer for the women who brought the case to court, put the event into perspective.
“Today is a truly historic day.”
In honor of this amazing development, let’s revisit an Austrian artist who definitely raised awareness for LGBTQ peeps worldwide. Behold the majesty of gender-bending Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst.