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(Berlin) –The Lithuanian justice minister’s blanket rejection of a gender neutral bill to allow civil partnerships contravenes European standards, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Justice Minister Juozas Bernatonis released today. The minister was reacting to a proposed civil partnership bill by nine members of parliament from the Social Democratic and Liberal Parties.

The Greek government announced on June 10, 2015, that it will introduce a new law giving civil union rights to same-sex couples following a ruling by the European Court on Human Rights that civil partnership legislation that excluded same-sex couples was discriminatory.

Judges of the European Court of Human Rights sit in the courtroom during a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. (c) 2015 Reuters

“It is extremely disappointing that Justice Minister Bernatonis opposed including same-sex couples in the registered partnership legislation,” said Boris DittrichLGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Justice Minister Bernatonis should understand from the ruling on Greece that his position is discriminatory and violates Lithuania’s international human rights obligations.”

Bernatonis commented during a live TV debate on June 3 that he would allow registered partnership only for opposite sex couples. He contended that the “number of homosexual couples living together in Lithuania” is “simply too low” to include them in partnership legislation.

As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and as a member of the Council of Europe, Lithuania, an EU member state, is bound by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and Council of Europe positions, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2013, the Court found that proposed registered partnership legislation in Greece that did not include same-sex couples was discriminatory. The Court ruled that the Greek legislation violated  article 8 of the convention, on family life, taken together with article 14, which prohibits discrimination. 

On October 16, 2014, the Council of Europe’s advisory body – the European Commission for Democracy through Law – criticized the scope of an amendment proposed by Macedonia on the grounds that “it should not exclude providing to same-sex couples the same level of legal recognition as it provides to different-sex couples.”

In a 2010 resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognized the importance of granting same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples in civil unions or registered partnerships. 

EU member states that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples are the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland), France, Luxembourg, Slovenia – approved by parliament on March 3, Finland – expected to go into effect on March 1, 2017, and Ireland – expected to come into effect in the fall of 2015.

“The Lithuanian government needs to understand that it has firm obligations to protect LGBT people and their children,” Dittrich said. “Lithuania should understand that what applies to Greece and Macedonia in relation to rights for same-sex couples also applies to Lithuania.”

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