A picture of a same-sex kiss on Facebook wreaks havoc: Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania

Ingrida Milkaite is a PhD researcher in the research group Law & Technology at Ghent University, Belgium. She is working on the research project ‘A children’s rights perspective on privacy and data protection in the digital age’ (Ghent University, Special Research Fund) and is a member of the Human Rights Centre at the Faculty of Law and Criminology at Ghent University and PIXLES (Privacy, Information Exchange, Law Enforcement and Surveillance).

Two young men publicly posted a photograph of themselves kissing on Facebook. The post ‘went viral’ and attracted around 800 comments, most of which were hateful. Some of the comments featured suggestions to burn, exterminate, hang, beat, castrate, and kill the two men as well as gay people in general. The national authorities, while acknowledging that some comments were ‘unethical’, refused to launch a pre-trial investigation for incitement to hatred and violence against homosexuals. They considered that the couple’s ‘eccentric behaviour’ had been provocative and that launching an investigation in this case would be a ‘waste of time and resources’. The judgement in the case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania (Application no. 41288/15) was published on 14 January 2020. The ECtHR found a violation of Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Article 8 ECHR, as well as a violation of Article 13 ECHR. Continue reading

Zhdanov and others v. Russia: on missed opportunities and an offensive applicant

On 16 July, the Court delivered its judgment in the case of Zhdanov and others v. Russia. The case concerns the refusal by the Russian authorities to register two LGBT rights organisations because they were considered extremist organisations on account of the allegedly immoral character of their activities. In this judgment, the Court found a violation of Article 6 § 1 (access to court) and of Article 11 (freedom of assembly), alone and in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). This blog post is only concerned with the Article 11 and 14 aspects of the case. After setting out the facts, I will highlight some of the missed opportunities in the Court’s judgment from the perspective of the third party intervention we, as the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, submitted in this case (in particular as far as the assessment of the legitimate aim of the interference is concerned). In addition, I will discuss a quite peculiar aspect of the case: the decision to declare the part of the complaint lodged by LGBT activist Nikolay Alekseyev inadmissible as an abuse of the right of application because of offensive statements he made about the Court and its judges on social media. In line with the (partly) dissenting judges, I will argue that this is problematic from the viewpoint of both freedom of expression and access to the Court. Continue reading

X v. FYROM: A circumspect compromise on trans* rights?

This post was written by Mariam Gaiparashvili and Sarah Schoentjes, Master students at the Human Rights Legal Clinic, Ghent University

In X v. FYROM, the ECtHR confirmed the Member States’ positive obligation under Article 8 ECHR to establish a clear legal procedure for gender recognition. Disappointingly, however, it refused to examine the applicant’s claim that mandatory sex reassignment surgery as a requirement for gender recognition also violated Article 8. From the dissenting opinion of Judges Pejchal and Wojtyczek, it is clear that this application crystallised core disagreements within the Court on its interpretation methods and its role toward the Member States. Unfortunately, trans* persons bear the brunt of this conflict, as it seems to have led the Court to be very circumspect in this case, denying trans* persons much-needed clarity and protection. Continue reading

S.V. v. Italy: on temporality and transgender persons

By Pieter Cannoot, PhD Researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University

On 11 October 2018, the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 8 ECHR in a case involving a transsexual woman called S.V. The application concerned the Italian authorities’ refusal to authorise S.V. officially changing her first name on the grounds that no judicial ruling had confirmed the successful completion of sex reassignment therapy, even though she had been socially and physically transitioning for several years. According to the Court, this waiting period had resulted in feelings of vulnerability, humiliation and anxiety, which amounted to a disproportionate interference with S.V.’s right to respect for private life. Continue reading

Human Rights Centre submits a third party intervention in “Conchita Wurst case”

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University[1] has recently submitted a third party intervention in the case of Minasyan and Others v. Armenia, which raises important issues concerning the protection of LGBTIQ+ persons against hate speech. In our third party intervention, we invite the Court to clarify Convention standards regarding the positive obligation for the State to combat hate speech based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Before summarizing the main arguments developed in our third party intervention, I will first provide a brief overview of the facts of the case. Continue reading

The CJEU’s judgment in Coman: a small step for the recognition of same-sex couples underlying European divides over LGBT rights

By Manon Beury, research assistant in Comparative Sexual Orientation Law, Leiden University

Following the eagerly-awaited judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Coman and Others v. Romania, the Romanian Constitutional Court decided on 18 July 2018 that same-sex married couples have the right to reside in the country if one of the spouses is a Romanian citizen. The CJEU ruled on 5 June 2018 that the term “spouse”, for the purpose of granting a right of residence to non-EU citizens, includes same-sex spouses. The decision was hailed as a great victory for same sex couples. Yet, overjoyed celebrations may be rushed. If the Luxembourg Court did raise the bar on LGBT rights in Coman, the step forward regarding the recognition of same-sex marriage is a rather small one. At a point in time where certain Member States are introducing a constitutional ban on and others are legalising such marriages, the Court in Coman served as a forum for political battles that crystallise a clear divide within the EU. Continue reading

Inadmissibility decision in Bonnaud and Lecoq v. France – should the Court have recognized the specificity of a same-sex relationship?

By Pieter Cannoot, PhD researcher at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University

On 6 February 2018, the European Court of Human Rights declared the application of Francine Bonnaud and Patricia Lecoq, two French women who were in a relationship at the time of the relevant facts, manifestly ill-founded. The application concerned the refusal by the domestic courts to grant the request by both women to delegate parental authority over their respective biological child to their partner. Although the Court prima facie seems to have come to a logical decision, the question arises whether the application was accurately framed to deal with the substantive issue at stake, i.e. the discrimination of same-sex couples regarding parental rights. Continue reading

The EU Court in Luxembourg is raising the bar on LGBT rights

By Sam MacMahon Baldwin, Attorney-at-law (Advokat) at Gorrissen Federspiel

2017 ended with the Strasbourg Court reaffirming the decision from Orlandi and Others v. Italy that Member States must recognize and protect same-sex unions – although the Court did not require recognition of actual same-sex marriage. Now well into the new year, it is the EU Court in Luxembourg that is pursuing LGBT rights and personal dignity. Two cases from January are set to raise the bar for EU Member States. Continue reading

Oliari, Orlandi and Homophobic Dissenting Opinions: The Strasbourg Approach to the recognition of same-sex marriages

By Claire Poppelwell-Scevak, PhD FWO Fellow, Gent University

From first glance, the decision of Orlandi and Others v Italy on 14 December 2017, may appear as a step in the direction of same-sex couples being afforded the protection of Article 12 ECHR – the right to marry. However, when one digs a little deeper into this case, there is only dismay that the Strasbourg Court has continued to reinforce its ‘same same but different’ interpretation of the Convention instead of being at the forefront of this struggle for equality. Continue reading

Same Same But Different: A heterosexual couple denied registered partnership by the ECtHR

By Claire Poppelwell-Scevak, FWO Research Fellow, Human Rights Centre (Ghent University)

On 26 October 2017 the European Court of Human Rights held in Ratzenböck and Seydl v Austria that Austria’s registered partnership law, which is only open to homosexual couples, did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights by denying this registered partnership to a heterosexual couple. The judgment given by the seven member – although there was a two judge dissenting opinion – bench can be seen as a warning to future same-sex marriage proponents that their claims will not be favourably assessed. Continue reading

Bayev and Others v. Russia: on Judge Dedov’s outrageously homophobic dissent

Earlier this week, we published a blog post by Pieter Cannoot and Claire Poppelwell-Scevak on the judgment of Bayev and Others v. Russia in which the Court held that Russia’s so-called gay propaganda law violated the European Convention. In this blog post, I will not further dwell upon the outcome of the case or the reasoning by the majority. However, it is necessary to highlight and protest against the dissenting opinion by Judge Dedov. In his dissent, the Russian judge has crossed a line by making outrageously homophobic statements that are unworthy of a judge at the European Court of Human Rights. Continue reading

ECtHR finds Russia’s gay propaganda law discriminatory in strong-worded judgment

By Pieter Cannoot, PhD researcher, Human Rights Centre (Ghent University) and Claire Poppelwell-Scevak, FWO Research Fellow, Human Rights Centre (Ghent University)

On 20 June 2017, the European Court of Human Rights issued a particularly strong-worded judgment in the case of Bayev and Others v. Russia. The Court not only found Russia’s legislative prohibition of the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ among minors to be a violation of Article 10 and Articles 10 j. 14 ECHR, but also did so in a well-reasoned, straightforward judgment that easily set aside every argument by the Russian Government. The boldness of the judgment for the protection of LGB rights heavily contrasts with the dissenting opinion of Judge Dedov, whose inexcusable assimilation of homosexual persons with child abusers is a black mark on the Strasbourg Court. Continue reading

A.P., Garçon and Nicot v. France: the Court draws a line for trans rights

By Pieter Cannoot, PhD researcher of human rights law (Ghent University)

On 6 April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights significantly strengthened the human rights protection of trans persons, with its long-awaited judgment in the case A.P., Garçon and Nicot v. France. The Court ruled that the condition of compulsory sterilizing surgery or treatment for legal gender recognition violated Article 8 of the Convention. Nevertheless, the judgment also left some questions unanswered. Continue reading

The potential of a vulnerability-based approach: some additional reflections following O.M. v Hungary

Guest post by Denise Venturi, PhD Student in International Law, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) and KU Leuven (Belgium)

As has recently been noted in this blog, the case of O.M. v Hungary adds another tile to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) mosaic on vulnerability. The present blog post seeks to start from these premises and dig further into the Court’s reasoning, to reflect on the extent to which vulnerability can be operationalised and meaningfully used in the legal reasoning and when, instead, it risks to remain confined only to a synonym for specific situations deserving attention.

As the readers of this blog may know, O.M. v Hungary concerned the detention to which a gay asylum seeker from Iran was subject while his asylum request was processed and before being granted refugee status. The detention was ordered because, allegedly, Mr. O.M. had not been able to clarify his identity and nationality; had entered irregularly; had not had any resources to live on in Hungary and there was a risk he could frustrate the procedure if left at large. The applicant claimed before the ECtHR that his detention had been unjustified with respect to Article 5(1)(b) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that no individual assessment had been carried out. Notably, the applicant’s sexual orientation had not been taken into consideration, although Mr. O.M. reported to fear harassment in detention because of this circumstance.

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Taddeucci and McCall v. Italy: welcome novelty in the ECtHR’s case-law on equal treatment of same-sex couples

This guest post was written by Dr. Nelleke Koffeman (*)

The Taddeucci and McCall v. Italy judgment of 30 June 2016 is a novelty in the ECtHR’s case-law on equal treatment of same-sex couples. It is the first time that the Court, in finding a violation of the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation (Article 14 ECHR in combination with Article 8 ECHR) in a case where stable same-sex partners do not enjoy the same rights as different-sex spouses, takes into account that those same-sex couples have no access to marriage under the relevant domestic law. It is not that the Court has never before been asked to acknowledge the (indirect) discrimination involved in such cases. Quite the opposite, but, as set out below, it has so far taken a formalistic approach in such cases. The present judgment is thus a clear – and to be welcomed – deviation from previous case-law.

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Oliari and Others v. Italy: a stepping stone towards full legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Europe

This guest post was written by Giuseppe Zago, Researcher of Comparative Sexual Orientation Law, Leiden University (*)

Last 21 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Oliari and others v. Italy had once again the opportunity to analyze the status of same-sex couples wishing to marry or enter into a legally recognized partnership. This resulted in a groundbreaking judgment, with the Court asserting that the absence of a legal framework recognizing homosexual relationships violates the right to respect for private and family life, as provided by the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in article 8.

Its relevance is twofold, as the Court poignantly plunges into the current legal situation of Italy, and at the same time builds up on the outcomes of its previous cases, Shalk and Kopf v. Austria and Vallianatos and others v. Greece, to slightly, yet significantly, extend the interpretation of the ECHR principles concerning same-sex individuals who enter stable intimate relationships.

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The Y.Y. v. Turkey case and trans individuals’ gender recognition

This guest post was written by Ivana Isailovic, post-doc researcher at the Perelman Center (Université libre de Bruxelles) and affiliated to the IAP, Human Rights Integration project.[1]

The Y.Y v. Turkey decision deals with the process of gender recognition, which is one of the many pressing legal issues trans[2] communities are struggling with in Europe. In its previous decision, the European Court of Human Rights has found that the State’s failure to modify the birth certificate of a person by recognizing the preferred gender constitutes a violation of the right to private life guaranteed by art. 8. For the first time, in Y.Y. v. Turkey, the Court examines the domestic requirements ­– in this case the sterilization requirement – which are necessary to obtain the legal recognition of the preferred gender.

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Vallianatos and Others v. Greece: What is in there for Lithuania?

This guest post was written by Natalija Bitiukova*

Is it possible that having a discriminatory law allowing civil partnerships only for different-sex couples is better than having no law at all? After the Grand Chamber released its judgment in Vallianatos and Others v. Greece case, Lithuanian human rights advocates have realized that indeed it is. Contrary to a popular view that the judgment could become an easy-win for Lithuanian same-sex couples, it seems that the equal right to enter into a civil partnership will have to wait. Unfortunately, the ECtHR, in naming Greece and Lithuania as the only countries which provide for a form of registered partnership designed solely for different-sex couples, has counted them wrongly. Continue reading

X. v. Turkey: Why a Ruling on the Basis of Discriminatory Effects Would Have Been Preferable

A few weeks ago, the European Court of Human Rights released its judgment in X. v. Turkey. The case concerned a homosexual detainee who was put in an individual cell and under a very restrictive detention regime, after he complained about intimidation and harassment by heterosexual detainees with whom he shared a collective cell. On the ECHR Blog, our fellow academic and blogger Antoine Buyse heralded the judgment as “an important development in the Court’s case-law”: “[f]or the first time in its existence, the European Court of Human Rights found that a complaint related to sexual orientation discrimination yielded a violation of Article 3 ECHR.”

Inspired by the recent posts by Alexandra on “what constitutes racial discrimination?” and by Lourdes on “who should provide which standard of proof?”, I will argue that the Court should have gone beyond the formal approach to discrimination it displayed in X. v. Turkey. Rather than searching for discriminatory intent and motives, the Court should have primarily looked at discriminatory effects. I believe that a reasoning on the basis of discriminatory effects would have provided firmer ground to the Court’s finding of a violation of art. 14 juncto art. 3 ECHR. It would also have countered the – prima facie sensible – dissent of Judge Jočienė to the majority ruling.

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Anti-Gay Hate Speech: Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden

The Court has handed down a fascinating judgment on the freedom of expression. Vejdeland and others v. Sweden is the first time that the Court applies the principles relating to hate speech in the context of sexual orientation. A unanimous Court has ruled that Sweden did not violate the right to freedom of expression: the criminal conviction of the applicants for distributing leaflets that contained offensive statements about homosexuals did not breach the Convention. The judgment – which I will discuss below – is well worth reading, and so is the factsheet on hate speech that the Court has released on the occasion of this ruling. Continue reading

Blood Donations and the Permanent Exclusion of “Men Who Have Sex with Men”

In Belgium, as in many other European countries, homosexual men are not allowed to donate blood. To be more precise, not homosexual men are permanently excluded from donating blood, but “men who have sex with men”. “What’s in a name?”, you might ask. That is what I intend to find out in this post.

Reasonable arguments are invoked on each side of the blood donation debate: a concern for public health on one side and a struggle against stereotyping and discrimination on the other. But who is in the right here? Who has the law, and more particularly European human rights law, on its side? In this post I will attempt to offer a possible answer to these questions through the lens of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights. Obviously, the Court not having ruled on this issue, what follows is based on my interpretation of the Court’s discrimination case-law, combined with ideas on how a homosexual applicant may argue a hypothetical case in front of it.

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2010: year of “profound moral views”?

2010 was a turbulent year for the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has been under fire both for usurping too much power and for achieving too little. The first type of critique is made by conservatives who recycle the old idea that an international court has no legitimacy to judge the situation on the ground in individual states; this year vocally proclaimed in for, for example, the Netherlands (in Dutch) and Russia. The second type of critique – that the Court is doing too little – refers primarily to the huge backlog in cases. The Court is not managing its workload; therefore we saw such initiatives as the Interlaken Conference.[1]  

 To my mind, the year was characterized by an intense debate about the legal relevance/importance of an individual society’s moral values.  The abortion case of A, B and C v. Ireland is the most recent of a series of high-profile cases, all delivered in 2010 and all essentially revolving around the question to what extent the Strasbourg Court should take national morality into account when determining whether human rights violations have taken place in a certain state.  Apart from the abortion case, I’m thinking here of cases concerning sexual orientation (Schalk and Kopf v. Austria and Alekseyev v. Russia) and sex discrimination (Konstantin Markin v. Russia). What follows is a brief review and a critique of A, B and C v. Ireland. Continue reading

Child maintenance and gender stereotypes: understanding J.M. v. the UK

A recent case, J.M. v. the United Kingdom, startled our research team. The case concerns a British child support rule that is at first glance counter-intuitive. The rule, from the Child Support Act 1991, states that the parent who does not have the primary care of the children is required to pay child support. So far little news. However, the amount of this support is reduced when the absent parent enters into a new relationship. The rule made no distinction between married and unmarried couples, but took no account of same-sex relationships. In this post I will highlight why the Court’s ruling is problematic and, moreover, why the underlying rule is deeply disturbing. Continue reading

Adoption of Same-Sex Partner’s Child: Taking One More Step?

The Court has recently declared admissible Gas and Dubois v. France, another major case concerning adoption by homosexuals. Earlier in E.B. v. France, the Court dealt with adoption by a single homosexual and addressed allegations of direct discrimination. Gas and Dubois v. France now confronts the Court with further challenges: the adoption of a same-sex partner’s child and claims of indirect discrimination. Continue reading

Delegitimizing tradition as a “legitimate aim”: inspiration for Strasbourg from California

Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the recent judgment overturning Prop 8, got me thinking about legitimate aims. I believe the European Court of Human Rights could gain valuable insights from that case.

Newspaper readers will be aware that, last week, a federal judge in California rejected the amendment to the California constitution (Proposition 8 ) which banned same sex marriage. What is most interesting from a European perspective is the Californian judge’s masterly and compelling reasoning.

The point I want to highlight today is the way the Californian judge meticulously sets out why certain aims (or in U.S. jargon ‘state interests’) cannot be accepted as legitimate. Specifially, why preserving tradition cannot, in itself, be a legitimate interest. Continue reading

Same-sex marriage case should go to the Grand Chamber: more on Schalk and Kopf v. Austria

Gay rights are one of the human rights issues of our time. The Strasbourg Court came out with an important but ultimately disappointing ruling on same-sex marriage last week (for a summary of the case, see Lourdes’ post). It is disappointing both for the reasoning and for the outcome (see below). Despite the fact that a case like this had clearly been coming for a long time, the Chamber’s ruling is sloppy and leaves much to be desired. Add this to the fact that the judges were divided by 4 to 3 on the issue whether Austrian law was discriminatory and I think this case is ripe for the Grand Chamber.

The judgment is not all bad. The Court takes an important step in recognizing that same-sex relationships can fall under the category of “family life” (art. 8). One might interpret this ruling as a “hidden but hopeful” message that same-sex marriage laws will someday – when a sufficiently strong European consensus exists on this issue – be legally required by the Court.

Still, I am more somber regarding the instrumental value of this judgment (as it stands) in the struggle for gay equality; I think that the signal that the majority sends is too weak to provide much support for the gay movement. My main concern is the lack of a finding of discrimination. Continue reading