LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia


What do ILGA-Europe mean when we talk about ‘family’?

We mean you and those close to you. Any conversation about what constitutes a family cannot begin and end with marriage. That is why ILGA-Europe’s campaign for equal rights for rainbow families includes families includes advocating for marriage equality as well as protecting all forms of all forms of partnerships, relationships with or without children. Our definition of family is inclusive. It doesn’t just depend on the legal status of your marriage or partnership but on the practicalities of your everyday family life. We want to make sure you and all members of your family are treated equally and fairly.

Why is the work on LGBTI family issues so important?

The battle for full recognition of LGBTI families in Europe is far from over. Same-sex couples, LGBTI parents and their children still face discrimination, insecurity, bureaucratic burdens and legal obstacles.

Currently, only a handful of European countries fully protect LGBTI families on the same level as heterosexual couples and their families. Most European countries provide only partial protection and some offer no safeguards at all. Same-sex partners can risk ending up in legal limbo. Children in LGBTI families, without legal ties to all their parents, can risk growing up in fear and uncertainty. This can wrongly separate children from their parents in cases of divorce or the death of the only legally recognised parent. It can also result in denial of access to a partner’s or the children’s parents’ health insurance coverage, benefits, inheritance, and more.

What is the current situation for LGBTI families in Europe?

It is a complicated picture. On one hand, some countries have opened up to equality for LGBTI families in the last couple of decades. See all the countries where a form of partnership recognition exists here.

On the other hand, families in other European countries have witnessed harsh counter reactions and a reduction in rights during the same period.

Some examples:

  • Narrowing constitutional provisions on marriage and family definitions to different-sex marriage and families only (for example: Hungary in 2012; Croatia in 2013).
  • Introduction of laws banning or invalidating same-sex marriages.
  • Proposals in Russia to remove children from LGBTI parents.

What are the European institutions doing?

Litigation at European level has fostered progress and had a significant impact on the legal recognition of same-sex couples and LGBTI families in Europe. The right to enjoy family life, the right to adopt without discrimination based on sexual orientation and equal rights to pension payments for married and registered partners have all been recognised by the European courts, ECtHR or the CJEU. 

The European Union (EU) does not have competency to legislate directly on family related issues. However, freedom of movement is one of the fundamental principles of the EU. In 2004, the EU translated this principle into law, with the Free Movement Directive. The Directive gives EU citizens and their family members the right to reside in other countries within the EU.

In practice the Directive ensures the same level of rights to a LGBTI family if it decides to move from EU country to another EU country with a less inclusive legislation. So far unfortunately, the EU definition of “family members” (which includes spouses and their children) only applies to registered partnerships in countries of residence that have domestic partnership legislation. This needs to be widened.

How does ILGA-Europe approach issues for LGBTI families?

ILGA-Europe has several essential equality demands:

  • Partnership
  • Parenting
  • Children and other family members
  • Fighting discrimination

Read here our key demands.

We are working to secure equality in law, public policies and practices relating to any form of partnership (including marriage, registered partnership and cohabitation) and parenting (reproductive rights, adoption, fostering and parental responsibility).

Furthermore, ILGA-Europe supports an inclusive understanding of family that is not dependent only on the legal status of marriage or partnership but also on the recognition of de facto family links. Most importantly, the rights of the child are at the core of ILGA-Europe’s demands for recognition of diverse families.

We cannot limit our work to advocacy at the European level. This is why ILGA-Europe is supporting LGBTI organisations in your country to secure and strengthen your partnership and parenting rights. Click here to find a list of ILGA-Europe’s members.

We also help national LGBTI organisations to advocate effectively at a national level to ensure that the rights LGBT families enjoy in their member state of origin are fully respected when moving throughout the EU.

Finally, ILGA-Europe also supports litigation in the European courts. This is done by facilitating trainings on litigation on this issue to member organisations and by submitting third party interventions with partner organisations.

ILGA-Europe resources on family

Report - Round Table on Rainbow Families: from mutual recognition of rights in the EU to national strategies on marriage equality and/or civil union laws

June 2015

Download it here

ILGA-Europe's contribution to the Green Paper

Less bureaucracy for citizens: Promoting free movement of public documents and recognition of the effects of civil documents

April 2012

Download it here

Green Paper on the right to family reunification of third-country nationals living in the European Union

February 2012

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ILGA-Europe's contribution to the Stakeholder consultation on possible EU measures in the area of paternity leave

February 2010

Download it here

LGBT families and the Free Movement Directive: Implementation Guidelines

January 2009

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The Rights of Children Raised in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Families: A European Perspective

December 2008


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Different Families, Same Rights? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Families under International Human Rights Law

December 2008


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Different Families, Same Rights? Freedom and Justice in the EU: Implications of the Hague Programme for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Families and their Children

December 2007


Download it here