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A “Living Instrument” for Everyone: the role of the European Convention on Human Rights in advancing equality for LGBTI persons

Conference to mark the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights
Strasbourg 8 October 2020
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Dear President and Judges of the Court,

Distinguished speakers and colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

It is a great pleasure to open this timely conference.

As we approach the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, we will have plenty of opportunities to discuss its impact across a whole range of issues:

To reflect on the way in which its application has provided unprecedented protection for people in Europe at a time when our societies are changing ever faster.

It has done this because, in the Court’s own words, the European Convention is a “living instrument which must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions and of the ideas prevailing in a democratic society”.

LGBTI people are of course not a new “idea”.

For as long as there have been people, there have been LGBTI people.

But our understanding has changed.

LGBTI people are more visible than ever, and so is their valuable contribution to society and to professional and family life.

The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights have played a key role in that progress.

Article 8, on the right to respect for family and private life, and Article 14, prohibiting discrimination, have been particularly important, and their application sometimes transformative.

Take the 1981 case of Dudgeon versus the United Kingdom.

It found that legislation classifying homosexual relations between two men as a criminal offence was a breach of Article 8.

And by issuing that judgment, the Strasbourg Court took a significant step in decriminalising same sex relationships in our common legal space.

Further cases followed and the case law of the Court was enshrined in the Committee of Ministers’ 2010 landmark Recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity:

The world’s first international legal tool designed for this purpose, its application ensures dignity and equality for LGBTI people across Europe.

And the most recent review of that Recommendation found plenty of evidence that national authorities are putting it to good use.

For example, more countries than ever are ensuring LGBTI people’s access to assisted reproductive treatment, to adoption, and to same-sex partnerships and marriages.

But the review also found areas in which problems remain:

For example, the protection of participants in peaceful demonstrations and restrictions on LGBTI events and on association and assembly;

Set against a backdrop of rising hostility to LGBTI people in some member states and the impact of COVID-19 which has left many individuals cut off from support networks – and sometimes confined with hostile family members – it is easy to see that further change is needed.

So, our work will go on.

For this, we have a range of actors and mechanisms:

The Parliamentary Assembly, the Commissioner for Human Rights of course, and the new Steering Committee on Anti-discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion – which will help member states to learn from one another’s successes and failures.

And we also benefit from the good work of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Unit, which took the welcome initiative of holding this Conference.

But underpinning all of this – still and always at the centre of our progress – is the European Convention on Human Rights.

After 70 years, it has ensured that more LGBTI people are taking their seats at the table:

That the European family, and families across Europe, are more inclusive and more complete.

What a wonderful thing.

I hope that today’s panel discussions are illuminating and inspiring for you all.