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As of March 1, Finland will allow same-sex couples to marry, bringing to thirteen the number of European countries with marriage equality laws.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement on February 21, affirmed that 27 of the Council’s 47 member states provide some form of legal recognition to same-sex partnerships, including the 13 countries with marriage equality.

LGBT Rainbow Flag © 2008 Ludovic Berton (Wikimedia Commons)

Disappointingly, therefore, 20 Council of Europe states still do not provide any legal recognition to same-sex couples, in spite of jurisprudence by the European Court of Human Rights. In the 2015 Oliari case, the court found Italy had violated the European Convention on Human Rights – specifically article 8, on family life –by failing to make registered partnerships available to same-sex couples.

Most countries in Western Europe now permit same-sex couples to marry. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are exceptions, although opinion polls show a majority of people in these countries are in favour of equal marriage rights.

In his statement, Muiznieks called on the 20 states without any provisions “to enact legislation to create – at the very least – registered partnerships that ensure that privileges, obligations or benefits available to married or registered different-sex partners are equally available to same-sex partners.” He specifically mentioned “social security, taxes, employment and pension benefits, freedom of movement, family reunification, parental rights, and inheritance.”

The commissioner rightly notes that granting rights and benefits to same-sex couples does not take anything away from different-sex couples who already have access to them.

Finland has taken a positive step forward towards ending discrimination. Other European countries should follow suit. 

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