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Same-Sex Couples Strive For Marriage Rights In Every EU Country


Same-sex marriage recently became the law of the land in the United States. We're going to visit a place now where that is not the case, the European Union. Same-sex couples there are fighting for recognition, especially in the eastern half of the 28-country bloc, as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Like many same-sex couples, Marta Abramowicz and her partner, Anna Strzalkowska, struggle with their status in the European Union. The psychologist and sociology professor registered for a civil partnership in Liverpool, England, four years ago. They plan to go back there to marry now that the U.K. offers same-sex marriage. But neither their current nor future legal relationship is recognized at home in Poland, where they live with their 2-year-old son, Mateusz, in the port city of Gdansk. Abramowicz says it's frustrating to have no standing in one's country, where marriage is constitutionally defined as being between a man and a woman.

MARTA ABRAMOWICZ: And the situation is worse because we have a child. My partner is biological mother, and as a social mother, I don't have any rights to our child. I expect problems in the future with kindergarten, with school personnel and also with hospitals because in all these institution, you need to be recognized by the law that you are a parent.

NELSON: She says they've already experience the parenting double standard. Abramowicz explains when her partner gave birth, the doctor said either she or the biological father would be allowed in to see the baby, not both. Heterosexual parents didn't face similar restrictions on family members, Abramowicz says.

ABRAMOWICZ: So we are thinking that if we have problems in Poland, then we always can go to U.K. and get our rights back.

NELSON: Activists say many same-sex couples in the EU experience discrimination, given that LGBT laws are determined by individual EU states. Evelyne Paradis is executive director of the advocacy group ILGA-Europe, which is based in Brussels.

EVELYNE PARADIS: Well, it's a very mixed picture. On one hand of the spectrum, we have a lot more countries progressing very quickly towards the marriage equality. But then on the other end of the spectrum, we have, unfortunately, a trend picking up in different parts of Europe of actually going towards the marriage bans.


ANDRZEJ JAWORSKI: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: That doesn't bother Polish parliament member Andrzej Jaworski of the Law and Order Party. He says there are far more important issues to contend with, like the economy, and accuses the European Union of forcing too many rules on member states as it is. Nevertheless, same-sex couples scored an unexpected victory on July 21 in the European Court of Human Rights. In their unanimous ruling, the judges wrote Italy's failure to legally recognize same-sex couples violated the European Convention on Human Rights and urged the Italian government to rectify that. The ILGA-Europe's Paradis says she doubts EU officials will be moved by such court rulings to order uniform recognition of same-sex couples across the bloc.[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly identify Polish politician Andrzej Jaworski as a member of the "Law And Order Party." He is a member of the "Law And Justice Party."]

PARADIS: We are at a time where member states of the European Union are extremely guarded and so even more so when it comes to topics that they perceive to be sensitive, like family law.

NELSON: She predicts laws guaranteeing marriage equality will have to come from member countries themselves. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.