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Human Rights: Same-sex Relationships

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 10 July 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Why they are intervening before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Horst Schalk and Johann Kopf v Austria (Application No. 30141/04) to contend that same-sex relationships fall outside the ambit of family life for the purposes of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

My Lords, the Government have intervened in the case of Schalk and Kopf v Austria primarily to support the proposition that Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights does not require same-sex couples to be allowed to marry. The noble Lord has raised an important technical issue about our observations in this case, for which I am grateful and upon which I am reflecting in consultation with my ministerial colleagues.

My Lords, I am grateful to hear that Ministers are considering the matter further. I have put the observations in the Library, so that those who want to can see exactly what the Government have said. It is not correct that they have confined their observations only to the right to marry. They have also said that the court should not develop its case law so that same-sex partners living in an enduring family relationship are protected by Articles 8 and 14 of the convention against sexual orientation discrimination in the enjoyment of the fundamental right to respect for family life. I have two questions. First, is that the Government’s aim because, if so, it seems bizarre? Secondly, in the light of our law’s recognition of civil partnership and recognition that for the purposes of adoption a couple includes two people of the same sex living as partners in an enduring family relationship, why on earth do the Government negatively seek to persuade the Strasbourg court that the convention does not require the creation of legal recognition of such relationships for same-sex couples, who cannot marry?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises important matters and I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to see the memorandum he has placed in the Library. The Government are very proud of the legislation introducing civil partnerships and we strongly encourage other countries to do likewise. However, we do not think it appropriate for other countries—many of which have very different social attitudes towards marriage and relationships—to be compelled to introduce similar systems. That was the principal aim of our intervention. We would be concerned if an interpretation suggested that Article 8 compelled legal registration of any family relationship. However, I assure the noble Lord that we are considering this point very carefully.