The married same-sex partners of European Union citizens are entitled to residency rights, the EU’s top court ruled on Tuesday.
The case involved Romanian LGBTQ activist Adrian Homan and his American partner Claibourn Robert Hamilton, who were wed in Belgium in 2010 after meeting in the United States eight years earlier. Because Homan’s home country doesn’t recognize gay relationships, Hamilton was limited to a three-month visa in Romania.
Although Homan challenged the decision in a Romanian court in 2012, the Eastern European country referred the case to Luxembourg’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) to weigh in. The ECJ finally took up the case in 2016.
Two years later the EU court has finally reached its verdict, claiming that the term “spouse” is gender neutral.
“Although the member states have the freedom whether or not to authorise marriage between persons of the same sex, they may not obstruct the freedom of residence of an EU citizen by refusing to grant his same-sex spouse, a national of a country that is not an EU Member State, a derived right of residence in their territory,” the ECJ said.
The decision will apply unilaterally to all 28 countries that make up the European Union.
As specified in the ruling, this decision will not impact the marriage status of LGBTQ couples in Romania, where homosexuality was decriminalized in 2002. Romania is currently one of six EU member countries that have yet to extend marriage benefits to same-sex partners. The others are Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia, all of which are post-Soviet nations.
Even despite the limited scope of the ruling, it remains to be seen whether the ruling will be met with backlash in conservative Romania, where a 2017 Pew Research survey found that three-quarters of the population opposes marriage equality.
Last year Rowan County, KY clerk Kim Davis went on a nine-day tour of Romania to lobby in favor of a referendum banning same-sex couples from marrying.
But while the world awaits Romania’s reaction, the couple at the center of the case is happy. After six years of fighting to bring Hamilton to Romania, Coman said the two “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.”
“We are grateful to the EU court and to the many people and institutions who have supported us, and through us, other same-sex couples in a similar situation,” the 46-year-old told The Guardian. “It is human dignity that wins today.”
“We are one step closer to being recognised as a family and I am truly elated,” Hamilton added.