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27th Feb 2024

MEPs call for EU-wide recognition of same-sex parents

  • The proposal backed by the parliament would strengthen their rights but it would not solve all problems for same-sex parents (Photo: London Scout)
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The European Parliament wants more rights for same-sex parents and their children, but hard-right MEPs heavily criticised this idea.

On Thursday (14 December), MEPs adopted a report for an EU-wide recognition of parents in same-sex couples across the 27-nations bloc.

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EU lawmakers have called member states to recognise the parenthood of same-sex couples if another member state has previously recognised it. This is supposed to support families who travel or move within the EU.

It would be "absolutely vital" to have "clarity and legal certainty for all types of families who exist, live in, and move around" different member states, said rapporteur Portuguese socialist MEP Maria-Manuel Leitão-Marques on Wednesday during a plenary debate on the topic.

The responsible EU commissioner for this proposal Didier Reynders welcomed the parliament's report.

And he pointed to the difficulties that same-sex parents face in cross-border situations: "Families may be forced to start proceedings to have the parenthood recognised in another member states. But these proceedings are often lengthy and costly and have often uncertain results."

The European Commission presented a proposal in December last year for EU-wide recognition "irrespective of how the child was conceived or born and irrespective of the child's type of family" and regardless of the nationalities of the child and the parents.

The EU executive also suggested a standardised Europe-wide certificate for easier proof of parenthood. Also, heterosexual international couples could benefit from such a regulation. It would guarantee legal certainty to see their child when it is in hospital, or for school decisions.

The parliament's report goes further in some points. While the commission had two persons as the parents in mind, the parliament suggests more rights for children "in another type of family that does not fit the nuclear family model". Such as children that are raised by more than two persons, no matter their gender identity or sexuality.

With numerous amendments, the far-right groups ID and ECR were trying to water down or prevent the parliament report.

"Are you talking about four mothers? What are these crazy ideas?", said Milan Uhrík from the Slovakian nationalist party Hnuti Republika.

ILGA-Europe which represents more than 700 LGBTQI organisations in Europe and Central Asia has welcomed the move.

Such a regulation would ensure "that a child does not 'lose' its parents when crossing from one EU member state to another," said Katrin Hugendubel from ILGA-Europe.

The regulation is supposed to apply even when an EU country such as Italy forbids same-sex couples to legally be joint parents.

In at least eleven out of 27 EU countries, parents with the same gender may be denied legal recognition as joint parents of their children, according to a study by the European Parliament from 2021.

The issue of surrogacy

The proposal backed by the parliament would strengthen rainbow families' rights — although it would not solve all problems for same-sex parents.

Dan Sobovitz lives with his husband and their twins in Brussels, and sees the parliament call and the commission proposal as a "step towards equality" but criticises it as not being ambitious enough.

"Most gay couples who have children go through surrogacy. Given that the process is not possible in Europe, we are obliged to do so elsewhere, typically in the Americas," he told EUobserver.

As surrogacy is not recognised in Europe, the third country where a child is born has to establish parenthood before the parents can ask in an EU country to have it recognised. And it is not guaranteed that an EU member state will do so.

"It took us a few years to get a member state to recognise the parenthood that a third country had established. As such, the new proposal may not offer any protection to my children", Sobovitz said.

Sobovitz, a former speechwriter of former commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, called for member states to directly allow surrogacy and establish parenthood for children born outside of the EU.

He suggests "a complementary approach" that the EU could address this question within the intergovernmental organisation Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that fills cross-border gaps in law and specifically works on harmonizing international child protection law.

Although the regulation could bring advantages for some European citizens, the chances for adoption of the proposal are low.

As family relations lay within national competencies, the member states alone can decide whether to adopt the regulation. They do not have to take into account the parliament's opinion.

Furthermore, family law is among the matters on which EU member states has to vote unanimously.

"Discussions on this file are ongoing in the Council", said Reynders in Strasbourg.

But currently, it is unlikely that Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who continuously attacks gender and sexuality rights, will accept more rights for same-sex parents.

Swedish Left MEP Malin Björk, for her part, called on the EU Council to agree on the regulation.

"It is clear that my family and other rainbow families do not conform to the conservative ideals of some of the far-right in Europe. But our families exist. And we are here to stay," she said.

Author bio

Marion Bergermann is a Brussels-based journalist covering EU politics.

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