Conference on Private and Family Life for LGBTI People
Chairman, Ministers, and participants,
It is a pleasure to address you this morning on a topic that is heartening and fast-evolving.
I pay tribute to the Danish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Folketing for taking this initiative.
Every society in human history has featured LGBTI people and communities.
Their acceptance, their visibility, the words we use to identify and describe them – these things change across generations and cultural contexts.
But LGBTI sons, daughters and parents have always existed, and they always will.
That is well-understood in Denmark, the first country to recognise same-sex partnerships and a nation among the most supportive of LGBTI rights.
In some other countries such rights have not been recognised, and the family unit is seen through a more traditional lens.
The Council of Europe’s perspective in this area is based on human rights, underpinned by the rule of law.
So when we consider the private and family life of LGBTI people, we begin with the same starting point as we do with any other issue before us.
The principles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights – including Article 8 on the right to respect for family and private life – and the rich case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
Because, to paraphrase, LGBTI rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBTI rights.
Not special, not additional, but equal – for all.
The application of the Convention has resulted in the largest body of case law on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination of any international human rights court in the world.
On the decriminalisation of same sex relationships, for example.
In the 1981 Dudgeon v. the United Kingdom case, the Strasbourg Court found that legislation classifying homosexual relations between two men as a criminal offence was a violation of Article 8.
Further cases followed and the case law of the Court was enshrined in the Committee of Ministers’ landmark 2010 Recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
It made clear to member states that they should repeal any criminal law provisions that may result in discrimination against same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults.
But that Recommendation went further.
It clarified that domestic authorities should investigate, properly, crimes where sexual orientation or gender identity is believed to have been a motive.
That those responsible should be brought to justice.
And that member states should take action against “hate speech” – including in the media and on the internet – aimed at inciting, spreading or promoting discrimination against LGBTI people.
Naturally, a primary concern for many LGBTI people is the legal status of their relationship with a partner.
Today, 27 Council of Europe member states provide legal recognition for same-sex couples.
And in recent years the Strasbourg Court has issued a series of landmark judgments resulting in the adoption of laws that do this.
Similarly, our Commissioner for Human Rights and our Venice Commission have been clear that member states have a positive obligation to give legal recognition to same-sex couples.
The law has also evolved even on some of the most sensitive issues.
These include access to assisted reproductive treatment and adoption.
Here, the 2010 Recommendation and subsequent case law have leant heavily on Articles 8 and 14 of the Convention:
Namely, the right to respect for family and private life and the prohibition on discrimination.
And in these cases, the principle of the child’s best interest has been applied.
Consequently, in these areas, it is clear that discrimination against single women and single people respectively, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is not in conformity with the requirements of the Convention.
Of course, member states are free to go beyond the minimum standards established.
We see this for example in the growing number of countries allowing same-sex couples to adopt, legislating for equal marriage, or recognising such marriages made abroad as a Hungarian Court has done recently.
But implementing the 2010 Recommendation, keeping up with case law, and ensuring the human rights to which LGBTI people are entitled – these things are not always easy or intuitive for some national authorities.
That’s why we provide tailored support to our member states.
Working with national governments and civil society alike to amend laws, build capacity and raise awareness.
Our technical assistance ranges across aspects of life impacting on LGBTI people: access to justice; protection against violence; non-discrimination in the workplace and so on.
This assistance is underpinned by the excellent work of our Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity unit and our monitoring body ECRI, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance.
Together, they are providing the framework and support that bring about real change.
So too is our Parliamentary Assembly, which has a decades-long record in this area.
In recent years, the Assembly has adopted landmark resolutions on the rights of transgender and intersex people – and its current work on rainbow families is of great value too.
The speed and extent of change does of course depend on the readiness of governments and societies to embrace it.
There is a spectrum of views when it comes to LGBTI privacy and family life.
Some countries are impatient for progress; some move forward with caution; and others still are reluctant or hostile to change.
The trend among some member states of legislating for gay marriage has, for example, been met by others seeking domestic constitutional amendments to stop the same happening there.
And it is only right to recognise the recent outburst of homophobia and transphobia – and the recent deterioration of equal rights for LGBTI people – in some European countries.
At the Council of Europe we are driven by human rights and the rule of law.
We cannot demand that member states move beyond these – but we have a right to insist that they abide by them.
It is on this basis that the European Court of Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly have worked to strengthen private and family life for LGBTI families.
Today, when we talk of LGBTI people, we are talking about an extraordinary range of family circumstances in this diverse era in which we live.
LGBTI parents are raising – and raising well – children who will in turn take their place in society and contribute to our common well-being.
They, like every family, should live free from stigma and discrimination.
Because everyone has a right to privacy and family life – and the dignity that comes with it.