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(New York) - The people of Liechtenstein should vote "yes" in the June 2011 referendum on whether their parliament should proceed to legalize same-sex partnerships, Human Rights Watch said today.

"The parliament has already taken the right steps to ensure that everyone in Liechtenstein, regardless of sexual orientation, is entitled to the protection of the law," said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Now the citizens of Liechtenstein have an opportunity to endorse this move against discrimination."

If the majority of voters say "yes" in the referendum scheduled to take place on June 17 through 19, lesbian and gay couples will be entitled by law to most of the same rights as married heterosexual couples, except in a few areas, such as second-parent adoption, artificial insemination, and surrogacy. A "no" vote will leave same-sex partnerships outside of the protection of the law.

"A ‘yes' vote not only recognizes the reality that there is absolutely no reason that lesbians and gay men should not be entitled to protection of the law for their intimate relationships, but is also consistent with European efforts to modernize family law," Dittrich said.

A registered partnership bill was unanimously adopted by the Liechtenstein Parliament (Landtag) on March 16. The bill was due to become law on September 1.

However, under Liechtenstein law a bill can be prevented from becoming law if the people block it through a referendum, which must be held within three months of the adoption of the bill. Such a referendum requires a petition signed by a minimum of 1,000 registered voters. On April 21 a group called "Vox Populi" presented 1,208 signatures to the government, effectively demanding a referendum. The government announced the referendum dates on April 26. The result will be binding.

Liechtenstein is a member of the Council of Europe (CoE). Seven out of its 47 member countries grant same-sex couples equal access to marriage - the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. Another 13 members have passed legislation permitting same-sex couples to register their relationships - Andorra, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. These include Liechtenstein's neighbors, Switzerland and Austria.

As recently as November 2010, the European Court of Human Rights affirmed that the stable relationship of a cohabiting same-sex couple falls within the notion of "family life," as protected in article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court recognized that over the past decade, there has been a rapid evolution of social attitudes toward same-sex couples in many member countries, including affording them legal recognition.

Member states of the Council of Europe should not continue to leave the family lives of same-sex couples without legal protection, Human Rights Watch said. The Liechtenstein government's decision to recognize their rights to legal protection and to make legal provision for registered partnerships is in keeping with the country's human rights obligations.

"The people of Liechtenstein should not isolate their country from Western Europe or their LGBT citizens from the rest of society," Dittrich said. "The fundamental right not to be discriminated against should be observed in Liechtenstein, and same-sex partnerships should be recognized by law. The people of Liechtenstein should vote ‘yes' in the referendum."

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