Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hungarian Court rejection of different-sex registered partnership is the wrong result

A year ago, the Hungarian parliament passed a law permitting same-sex and different-sex couples to register as domestic partners. Yesterday its Constitutional Court threw out that law. English language press reports say that the court found it unconstitutional to give different-sex couples the option of registered partnership instead of marriage. Such an avenue, it said, "downgrades" in the institution of marriage. Apparently, if they rewrite the law to apply to same-sex couples only, it will not be unconstitutional.

Currently, the Netherlands is the only European country whose registered partnership law extends to both same-sex and different-sex couples. Netherlands also allows both types of couples to marry. Although it dates to 2005 and therefore is a bit behind, Dutch law professor Kees Waldijk's publication, More or Less Together, is an excellent resource on European law affecting same-sex couples.

I hate the Hungarian court's ruling. It is wrong on so many levels. The elevated status of marriage continues the wrong-headed notion that marriage is more important than all other relationships. Forcing different-sex couples to marry to obtain legal benefits and obligations maintains that elevated image. At the same time, the extension of a different option only for same-sex couples marks those relationships as inferior.

In another important way the Hungarian law was defective. It denied registered partners the right to adopt or to assisted reproduction. This follows the tradition in Europe of awarding rights to partners long before extending same-sex couples the right to parent, exactly the opposite of how LGBT family law developed in the US. I'm betting the Hungarian Constitutional Court isn't finding that exclusion unconstitutional!

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