Κυριακή, 5 Αυγούστου 2012

Gay Couples' Marriage Rights Unequal and Uneven

 Alice Pavesi for the International Herald Tribune
Elisa Bestetti, top, and Emmi Pihlajaniemi with their daughters, Irma, 4, and Kirsi, 2, on a family visit to Italy. The women are a legal couple in Finland.
By PAUL GEITNER
Published: July 25, 2012

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Europe and the United States have one thing in common when it comes to marriage rights and civil unions for same-sex couples: inconsistency.

 CASTEL MAGGIORE, Italy — When 1-year-old Kirsi Bestetti tripped and cut her lip at her grandparents’ house last summer, her mother Elisa Bestetti rushed her to the emergency room, panicky about all the blood
Once there, she also worried whether the hospital staff would accept her as Kirsi’s mother.
Ms. Bestetti is Italian, but towheaded Kirsi is Finnish like her birth mother, Emmi Pihlajaniemi. The two women have been married in all but name for five years at home in Finland, and each has given birth to a daughter who has been legally adopted in Finland by the other partner.
But Italy does not allow a child to have two mothers. Same-sex couples in Italy are not allowed to marry, to register partnerships, to adopt a child or benefit from assisted reproduction. Within the European Union, such family law issues remain the jealously guarded domain of the 27 individual countries, each with its own history, culture and legal tradition.
On the intertwined Continent, which prides itself on its open borders and a single market — as well as on being a trailblazer in banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, even electing openly gay politicians to high office — the resulting differences are more than symbolic. Increasingly they are leading to practical difficulties in all kinds of areas, like taxes, parental rights and inheritances, as people move around for work, love or just vacation.
“It’s a bit like baking a cake and then not wanting anybody to eat it,” said Michael Cashman, a gay-rights advocate and longtime member of the European Parliament from Britain. “But if you believe in freedom of movement — ‘Europe without borders’ — this is what we have to address: the inequalities that people face purely because of someone’s opinion.” In Kirsi’s case, the hospital ended up treating her, and the split lip was not serious. A year later there is not even a scar. But concerns linger over the family’s legal status when they venture outside of Finland.
“I don’t know if I would travel alone with Kirsi,” said Ms. Bestetti, who recounted the tale as Kirsi fidgeted on her other mother’s lap in a shady spot by the barn on the Bestetti family farm, just outside Bologna, Italy. “The Finnish state recognizes that I’m her parent, but here I’m nothing.”
The situation regarding marriage is similar in some ways to the hodgepodge of state laws in the United States. A significant difference, however, is the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriage and exempts states without gay marriage from having to recognize those performed in the few states that allow it. (In its next term, the Supreme Court is expected to hear a constitutional challenge to the part of the law requiring the federal government to deny benefits to same-sex married couples.)
In Europe, a handful of cases challenging cross-border obstacles have risen to European-level courts, but the resulting decisions have been limited in scope. Court observers say the judges, drawn from each member state, are keenly aware of the lack of consensus.
The European Commission, the guardian of European Union treaties, has been working on ways to make life easier for people who move across borders.
But although for two years it has been studying ways to facilitate the free circulation of civil status documents, including birth, death and marriage certificates, the proposal is still awaiting action. And when it goes forward later this year, the plan may not cover marriage. “For now, I think it is important to take one step at a time,” Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Opponents of gay marriage argue that any attempt in Brussels to require countries to recognize same-sex marriage certificates issued in another member state would, in effect, require them to introduce gay marriage whether they wanted to or not.
“A general application of the rule of mutual recognition of civil status documents will result in a situation where the political and social choices of some member states would be imposed on all the others,” CARE for Europe, a Christian lobby group, argued in its submission to the commission, echoing numerous opponents.
So for now, gay couples and families are fighting their own battles — often at considerable expense.

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