The first movement towards marriage equality in Austria came in 1995 when one partner of a same-sex Austrian couple died. The surviving partner wanted to remain in the apartment, but the landlord wanted to terminate the lease. Austrian laws at the time gave family members the right to succeeed to a tenancy, but this didn't necessarily extend to same-sex couples. The matter went to court and was finally appealed to the Constitutional Court of Austria who decided in favor of the landlord. The court ruled that the phrase "life companion" in the legislation only applied to opposite-sex couples.
The ruling was appealed to the European Court of Human Rights who overturned the Austrian court ruling . It was viewed as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. This decision gave cohabiting partners of the same sex in Austria the same rights as unmarried opposite-sex partners.
During 2006, there were three major developments:
Two minority parties in the Federal Government -- the Social Democratic Party and The Greens -- promoted equal rights in marriage and adoption for same-sex couples.
A transgender woman who was identified as male at birth and later identified as female was allowed to change her birth-registered gender to female without first divorcing her wife. She and her wife became the first married same-sex couple to be recognized in the country.
A federal election established a coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the conservative Austrian People's Party in power.
On 2010-JAN-01, a registered partnership bill took effect. Same-sex couples were able to form civil unions and have some of the same rights as were given to married couples.
Rechtskomitee Lambda -- a pro-equality LGBT group -- published a document that listed 72 rights enjoyed by married couples and were withheld from registered partners. Between 2010 and 2016, the government granted some additional rights to same-sex couples in registered partnerships. 6
Public opinion polls:
A public opinion poll in 2006 showed that 49% of Austrian adults favored marriage equality. This compared to 41% approval for all countries in the European Union.
By 2017-JUL, a poll by Österreich magazine found that 59% of adults in Austria favored gay marriages; 25% were opposed; and 16% did not give a response to the survey. 6 This is consistent with polls in other countries showing a gradual increase in public support for marriage equality. As each country legalizes same-sex marriages, it seems to increase public support elsewhere and makes it easier for other countries to attain equality as well.
2017: Gay marriages to be generally available in 2019-JAN:
A number of lawsuits were launched in an attempt to allow same-sex couples to marry. On 2017-DEC-04, the Constitution Court issued a ruling which declared that the ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. The ruling allowed the five plaintiff couples in the case to marry immediately, and legalized same-sex marriages for other Austrian couples effective 2019-JAN-01. The court gave the federal government the option of legalizing gay marriages earlier if they wished. The court ruling will preserve the existing civil partnership option and allow opposite-sex couples to either marry or enter into civil partnerships.
The court ruling said that:
"... the distinction between marriage and civil partnership can no longer be maintained today without discriminating against same-sex couples. ... [Keeping the two institutions separate suggests that] people with same-sex sexual orientation are not equal to people with heterosexual orientation." 2
An article by the BBC said:
"In a statement, the court said the distinction between the different kinds of unions could not be upheld because it was discriminatory against same-sex relationships, as it forced people to disclose their sexual orientation in situations where that was not relevant." 3
According to the Daily Mail (UK), the ruling said:
'The resulting discriminatory effect is seen in the fact that through the different title of the family status people living in same-sex partnerships have to disclose their sexual orientation even in situations, in which it is not and must not be relevant and ... are highly likely to be discriminated [against.]" 4
Reception by the federal political parties was mixed. Within the ruling Coalition, the Conservative People's Party (OVP) accepted the court ruling, but the more conservative Freedom Party (FPO) criticized it. The FPO said that
it disrespected the tradition of marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman that is intended for procreation.
Herbert Kickl, the FPO's secretary general said:
"Now there is equal treatment for something that’s not equal." 5
Homosexual Initiative Vienna (HOSI), a pro-equality LGBT non-profit group, welcomed the decision. Its chairperson, Christian Hoegl, said:
"We are very happy. We want to use the opportunity for a renewed call for a fundamental reform of marriage." 4
Helmut Graupner, a lawyer who represented two of the plaintiffs, said:
"Today is a truly historic day. ... ... Austria is the first European country to recognise marriage equality for same-gender couples as a fundamental human right. All the other European states with marriage equality introduced it [just] the political way. The Austrian Constitutional Court gave the most wonderful Christmas present one could imagine to loving couples."" 7
Austria is predominately a Roman Catholic country. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, is both the Catholic Archbishop of Vienna and the President of the Austrian Bishops’ conference. He said:
If the court denies the uniqueness and special legal status of marriage, built on the diversity of sexes, it denies reality and does no service to society. It also ultimately harms everyone, including those it seeks to protect and who should be protected." 8
He also said in a statement to Kathpress -- the Austrian Catholic news agency -- that the Constitutional Court judges had:
"... lost sight of the special nature of marriage [as a male-female relationship] producing, nurturing and raising children, thus ensuring the succession of generations. 8
He is confident that the court ruling will be reversed in the future:
"I am confident that in the long term, a view to the order of creation, which humans cannot disregard without coming to harm, will be established once again. 5
If Austria does make marriage unavailable to same-sex couples in the future, it will be the first country in the world to have first legalized and later banned marriage equality. Since public acceptance of marriage equality has always risen after equality has been attained, to reverse course seems unlikely.
France, Germany, Spain, the UK (except for Northern Ireland), and 11 other European couples have already legalized gay marriages. Many formerly Communist countries, including Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, still ban gay marriages and gay civil unions.
On OCT-11, the political parties in Austria's center-right governing coalition announced that they accepted the Constitution Court's ruling and had given up their resistance to marriage equality.
On OCT-12, two women who were plaintiffs in the court case became the first same-sex couple to marry. They were married in a private ceremony at a registry office in the Austrian capital. 9
Image downloaded from Wikipedia.com, by NuclearVacuum (File:Location European nation states.svg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Harriet Agerholm, "Austria court legalises same-sex marriage from start of 2019, ruling all existing laws discriminatory," Independent newspaper (UK), 2017-DEC-05, at: http://www.independent.co.uk/
"Austrian Supreme Court rules in favour of same-sex marriage," BBC, 2017-DEC-05, at: http://www.bbc.com/
"Austria will allow same-sex marriage by 2019 after legal challenge by lesbian couple,"
Daily Mail (UK), 2015-DEC-05, at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/