Hungarian Constitutional Court Affirms Registered Partnerships for Gay Couples

By Tamás Dombos
Háttér Society

 BUDAPEST, March 23, 2010    The Hungarian Constitutional Court has declared that the Registered Partnership Act, which came into force on July 1 last year giving same-sex couples the equivalent legal status as married couples, is in line with Hungarian constitution requirements.

Nine petition to rule the Act unconstitutional were submitted – including one from the Christian Democratic People’s Party, sister party of FIDESZ, the likely winner of the forthcoming general election.

Soon after its adoption last summer, conservative groups, including the Christian Democratic People’s Party, the Society for Christian Physicians in Hungary, the Pro Life Forum linked to the Catholic Church and representatives of Faith Church, a powerful Pentecostal church, submitted nine petitions contending the unconstitutionality of the Act.

The arguments were diverse.  Some argued that the new institution undermines the institution of marriage, others that excluding different-sex couples is discriminatory. There were legal arguments against the technique of codification (a general clause equating registered partnership with marriage for most purposes), but also religious arguments that homosexuality is disorderly and immoral.

Several petitions claimed that by institutionalizing and promoting homosexuality the law harms the children.  The Court rejected each of these claims one by one, reaffirming its previous decision that the right of same-sex couples to legal recognition and protection can be derived from the constitutional principle of human dignity and that the introduction of an institution similar to marriage for same-sex couples is a duty of the state imposed by the Constitution.

The Court also added that the law will play a positive role in promoting the social acceptance of same-sex couples and help gays and lesbians to come out.

As opposed to the generally positive tone of the decision, the Court also noted that not all differences between marriage and registered partnership are necessarily discriminatory, giving discretionary power to the legislator in deciding on the actual rights and duties that come with registered partnership.

According to the Hungarian legislation, registered partnership is a family law institution that is established by joint declaration in front of a registrar.  The rules governing the establishment and dissolution of registered partnership are the same as for marriage, and registered partners are entitled to most of the rights available for married couples.

Notable exceptions are the right to take the partners’ name, the right to adopt children and the right to participate in assisted reproduction.

Conservative opposition parties, expected to win elections next month, strongly criticized the law for making registered partnership so similar to marriage.

At this point it is unclear whether the new Constitutional Court decision will deter them from weakening the institution of registered partnership once in power.