Three landmark legal verdicts strengthen LGBTI rights in Southeast Europe

Three landmark legal verdicts strengthen LGBTI rights in Southeast Europe
By bne IntelliNews May 28, 2022

Courts in three Southeast European countries — Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Croatia — have issued landmark rulings in cases concerning the rights of LGBTI people in recent weeks. 

The role of the courts in these three countries in maintaining  LGBTI people’s rights appears to be part of a wider phenomenon, according to a recent report from International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Europe (ILGA-Europe). The report says in the last year, in Europe “regional and national institutions and courts taking their obligations to the human rights of LGBTI people with utmost gravity amid the now crystal clear escalation of the instrumentalisation of hatred against LGBTI people for political gain and expanded power.”

ILGA-Europe said in its latest Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation for LGBTI people in Europe and Central Asia that last year saw a “severe rise” in anti-LGBTI rhetoric from politicians and other leaders, fuelling a wave of violence, but this led to determination to tackle hatred and exclusion of LGBTI people.

In the latest development, Croatian LGBT rights NGO Rainbow Families said that the supreme court has ruled against a petition from ultraconservative NGO Vigilare seeking a ban on adoption of children by same-sex couples.

Vigilare launched a petition in 2021, calling on the Ministry of Family and Social Policy to prevent same-sex couples from fostering or adopting children. The petition claimed that a same-sex family creates an environment that is harmful to children and contributes to the creation of unhealthy individuals and thereby an unstable society.

Rainbow Families argued that the petition was discriminatory and was harassing LGBTIQ persons and their families.

The supreme court’s ruling gave Vigilare eight days to remove the petition from its website and bans the NGO from further publishing and using content that “in any way discriminates” against LGBTIQ persons, their families and children.

Prior to the supreme court’s ruling, a lower instance court said that Vigilare’s petition was not discriminatory but was stating an opinion.

Just a few days earlier, a Bulgarian court ruled that a baby girl born in Spain to a same-sex couple from Bulgaria and Gibraltar must be issued ID in a historic first-time decision in the country where homophobia has been spreading in the past years, LGBTI organisation Action said in a statement.

The organisation launched the case on behalf of the two parents. The ruling came after in December 2021 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the authorities in Bulgaria must issue the document.

The ruling concerns a married couple in which both women are recognised as mothers on their child’s birth certificate, issued in Spain where they live. However, Bulgaria does not recognise same-sex marriage and refused to name both as mothers in a national birth certificate, which is needed for the baby to get a Bulgarian – and hence an EU – identity document.

“Today Bulgaria made a step ahead of the legally and institutionally defined discrimination against LGBTI people, their families and children, ordering the administration to respect the their right of non-discrimination and personal family life,” Veneta Limberova, head of the Action NGO, which initiated the case, said in the statement.

This is the first ever case in Bulgaria on the formal recognition of two parents of same sex, and can pave the way for other similar cases.

The verdict was issued just over six months after a brutal attack on an LGBTI community centre in Sofia, led by one of the candidates in Bulgaria’s presidential race, Boyan Rasate of the Bulgarian National Union. Rasate was stripped of his immunity by the Central Election Commission after he was identified as one of the people who forced their way into the centre. 

Meanwhile, in Bosnia, the Municipal Court in Sarajevo passed a first-instance verdict on April 4 ruling that a statement by a former member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, Samra Cosovic Hajdarevic, was discriminatory — the first time such a ruling has been made in the country, according to the Sarajevo Open Center, an NGO that works to advance human rights, especially the position and human rights of LGBTI people and women in Bosnia.

The case concerned a comment made by Hajdarevic on her Facebook page about the first Bosnian pride march. The comment talked of pride marches being “aimed at destroying the state and its people”. 

“Everyone has the right to live their lives as they like, but we also have the right to choose who we want to live with. I want people like these to be isolated and put away from our children and society. Let them go somewhere else and make a city, a state, and a law for themselves, and their own rights that no one will dispute. But NOT here!” Hajdarevic wrote, according to a press release from the Sarajevo Open Center. 

The verdict issued by the Municipal Court in Sarajevo on April 4 confirmed the statement represented discrimination against LGBTI persons, said the Sarajevo Open Center in a press release on April 26. 

“For the first time, a court in Bosnia & Herzegovina determined discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics,” added the press release. 

“[I]n a country where one in every three LGBTI persons claims to have experienced discrimination because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, such messages are a positive signal that justice and protection may be obtained through institutions.”

According to ILGA-Europe, the human rights situation for LGBTI people in Europe and Central Asia is “increasingly complex”. Certain groups have become more vulnerable as anti-gender and anti-trans rhetoric remains widespread, while there has been a “staggering rise” in hate speech and related violence across the region, including much of the Central and Southeast Europe region. Among those engaging in hate speech were politicians, religious leaders, police, border guards and the media.

On the other hand, says the report, "state-sponsored anti-LGBTI rhetoric and legislation is not matched by public opinion”.

“Support for LGBTI people has never been stronger in Hungary and polls show the public sees the new legislation as a political tool. Hardly any Serbians know trans people, but 60% think they should be protected from discrimination. 68% of Romanians think all families, including rainbow families, should be protected, while 40% of Bulgarians would support a party that is pro-LGBTI,” it said. 

As in the previous report in 2021, the environment for LGBTI people is better in several of the Southeast European states, in particular EU candidate state Montenegro, even though the region is poorer and less integrated into the EU than Central Europe, where notable LGBTI offenders Hungary and Poland are located.