Same-sex couples will finally be able to marry in Austria after the country’s constitutional court ruled on Tuesday that laws prohibiting marriage equality are unconstitutional.
The ruling overturned a 2009 law permitting LGBTQ couples to enter into domestic partnerships but blocked them from receiving the full benefits of marriage. The ban will be lifted on Dec. 31, 2018, allowing same-sex partners to wed as late as 2019. Reports indicate that the European country may move to enact the changes sooner.
Judges ruled the earlier legislation constituted unlawful bias against same-sex couples.
“The distinction between marriage and registered partnership cannot today be maintained without discriminating against same-sex couples,” the court said in its written opinion.
The historic ruling makes Austria the 16th country in Europe to pass marriage equality, bringing the country in line with nations like United Kingdom, France, Ireland, and Belgium. The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex unions back in 2001.
But what makes Austria unique is that it’s the first country to recognize the freedom to marry as a “fundamental right,” says attorney Helmut Graupner in a Facebook post.
“Today is a truly historic day,” writes Graupner, the lawyer representing the couple who brought the constitutional challenge to the nation’s highest court. “[...] All the other European states with marriage equality introduced it... the political way.”
Austria is the latest country to push for marriage equality this year, following Malta and Germany. Its Western neighbor allowed same-sex couples to tie the knot in October after the Parliament voted 393 to 226 in favor of equality. The push for full marriage rights had stalled for a number of years after Germany enacted civil unions in 2001.
Australia will likely be next after the country voted in favor of same-sex unions in a November plebiscite. Sixty-one percent of voters cast a ballot supporting the right to wed, but that result is non-binding.
The Australian Parliament is currently debating a bill that would make those wishes the law of the land. A decision is expected soon.
But in a curious move, this week’s ruling from the Australian constitutional court will not strike down domestic partnerships. The country has claimed that the option will still be available for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.