Bulgaria urged to recognise same-sex couples

While the court does not oblige Bulgaria to introduce marriage between same-sex couples, the country must regulate their relations in local legislation in order to obtain protection for their private and family life, which are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. [Shutterstock/Oleg Mikhaylov]

Bulgaria must create a legal status to recognise same-sex couples – who are currently wholly deprived of rights on the country’s territory – to obtain protection for their private and family life, the Strasbourg–based European Court of Human Rights recently said.

While the court does not oblige Bulgaria to introduce marriage between same-sex couples, the country must regulate their relations in local legislation to obtain protection for their private and family life, which the European Convention on Human Rights protects.

This ruling is the result of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case “Koilova and Babulkova v. Bulgaria”.

“The decision is fundamental for the development of Bulgarian legislation in the field of equality and LGBT rights. Many couples in Bulgaria find themselves in a legal vacuum because on one side of the border, they are husband and wife, and on the other side – on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria – they have no legal relationship,” commented the lawyer Denitsa Ljubenova, who is also the chairman of the LGBT organisation Deistvie (Action) and represented the two Bulgarians before the court in Strasbourg.

Ljubenova attacks the state’s refusal to recognise the marriage of the two women. Darina Koilova and Lilia Babulkova married in 2016 in the United Kingdom, where they had lived since 2009. They currently live in Sofia.

Under Bulgarian legislation, there are two main forms of joint living as a family couple: civil marriage and de facto family union.

A month ago, for the first time in the Domestic Violence Protection Act, “intimate relationship” was also included, but then the Bulgarian parliament again showed a complete disregard for the problems of people with different sexual orientations and defined that only a man and a woman can be in “intimate relationship”.

Despite this context, during the proceedings before the court in Strasbourg, the Bulgarian government denied the problems faced by same-sex couples in the country.

The majority in parliament penned amendments to the law’s initial version, which protected the rights of same-sex couples, by writing that an “intimate relationship” could only exist between a man and a woman. The reason was the fierce opposition of the pro-Russian Vazrazhdane and the Bulgarian Socialist Parties.

“The Bulgarian government sees this as a sign that the debates on these issues are engaged enough to find their place on the political agenda when the time comes. No public body opposes this process, and influential political parties do not spread any propaganda that could be interpreted as promoting discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation,” the government’s position on the case says, as quoted in the judgement of the court in Strasbourg.

Although the decision of the court in Strasbourg is binding for the Bulgarian authorities, Bulgaria has no intention of implementing the judgments in the cases regarding the registration of the OMO “Ilinden” – Pirin and has delayed by 14 years the implementation of the decision in the case Kolevi v. Bulgaria for the lack of control of the Bulgarian Prosecutor General.

Bulgaria’s refusal to regulate the legal status of same-sex couples deprives them of several inheritance, tax insurance, and kinship rights about their future children, Ljubenova comments. The state is taking away more than 300 other rights guaranteed to heterosexual families, the lawyer says.

Darina Koilova applied to the Center for Assisted Reproduction, which finances in vitro fertilisation in women regardless of whether or not they have a partner or their own fertility. She filled out an application asking for marital status and the name of her husband and partner. Darina correctly stated that he is married to Lilia.

But she was not approved because of “the biologically determined impossibility of two persons of the same sex to reproduce naturally”. At the same time, the two women have explicitly indicated in the documents that they will use donor material. Centre officials even suggested they lie on the documents but refused to follow the advice.

(Krassen Nikolov |




Tags: Bulgaria, samesex couples

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