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ECHR: Bulgaria must recognise same-sex relationships

Today the European Court of Human Rights handed down its judgment in Koilova and Babulkova v. Bulgaria (Application No. 40209/20) and obliged Bulgaria to create a legal framework to recognise same-sex relationships.

Lilly and Dari's story on the road to recognition of their marriage

Liliya Babulkova and Darina Koilova, or as we call them, Lilly and Dari, have been together for over 14 years. Since their university years, they have known that the feelings between them were strong and timeless, and they became each other's support. Lilly and Dari are an example of what true love is – together they built their home, together they built their translation company, and together they fight for the right for all of us to have a family. In 2016, they decided to legalise their union and got married in the UK. They then submitted a request to Sofia Municipality, Lyulin District, asking for their marriage to be recognised in Bulgaria under the requirements of the Civil Registration Act. In 2017, Sofia Municipality, Lyulin district, refused to register the marriage. The two filed a lawsuit in the Administrative Court - Sofia-city against this refusal.

Lilly and Dari's case was initially taken up by the legal team of the LGBTI Organization Deystvie, and we engaged several lawyers known for their human rights work – Att. Denitsa Lyubenova, Att. Hristo Hristev, Att. Hristo Koparanov and Att. Adela Kachaunova.

Administrative Court – Sofia City ruled to uphold the refusal of Sofia Municipality, Lyulin District, and this decision was confirmed by the Supreme Administrative Court in 2019.

Lilly and Dari's marriage recognition case isn't the only case the couple is fighting. The two women are also filing a case to change Darina's surname (the case is pending before Sofia City Court). Lilly and Dari also had a case against the Assisted Reproduction Center, where they were denied funding for the procedure for the sole reason that they had written that they were married.

Proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights

In 2020, Lilly and Dari, through Att. Denitsa Lyubenova from Deystvie, filed a complaint against Bulgaria before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) with a request to establish a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to respect of private and family life.

There are two main issues that the complaint seeks to address:

  • On the one hand is the fact that Darina Koilova and Liliya Babulkova have a civil marriage legally concluded in a member state of the Council of Europe, i.e. a member state of the ECHR, and their marriage cannot be registered within the Republic of Bulgaria. The lack of registration of their marriage subjects them to legal uncertainty and forces them to live in a legal vacuum on Bulgarian territory.

  • On the other hand, Bulgaria has not regulated the legal recognition of same-sex families in any way, which puts at risk the families that are in an identical situation. The failure to regulate the rights of LGBTIQ+ families affects all the family-law relationships that these families enter into – in terms of inheritance, tax, kinship, with regard to their future children, and deprives them of over 300 other rights guaranteed to heterosexual families.

Conclusions reached in the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

In its decision, the ECtHR confirms its established case law that Bulgaria, as well as the other member states of the Council of Europe, are obliged to establish a legal framework regulating the family relations of same-sex couples. To this end, a legal form other than marriage may be introduced to recognise all unmarried families.

The Court ruled that in the absence of official recognition, same-sex couples are nothing more than de facto unions under Bulgarian law, with the partners unable to regulate fundamental aspects of their lives as a couple, such as those relating to property, alimony, protection from domestic violence and inheritance, as an officially recognised family. They also cannot invoke the existence of their relationship in relations with the judicial or administrative authorities. The applicants have a particular interest in being able to register their union so that their relationship is legally recognised and protected without unnecessary obstacles – in the form of fundamental rights that apply to any couple in a stable relationship.

The Court found that none of the grounds of violation of the public interest advanced by the Government outweighed the applicants' interest in obtaining adequate recognition and protection by law of their respective relationships. The Court concluded that Bulgaria had exceeded the bounds of its discretion and had failed to fulfill its positive obligation to ensure the applicants' right to respect for their private and family life.

Why is this important for Bulgaria?

The decision is key and fundamental for the development of Bulgarian legislation in the field of equality and LGBTI rights. Many couples in Bulgaria find themselves in a legal vacuum because they are married on one side of the border and have no legal relationship on the other side - on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. The ECtHR obliges the Bulgarian state to create a legal framework that allows same-sex couples to receive adequate recognition and protection of their relationship.

Lilly and Dari led the fight for an entire community. They were also open in the eye of the media when that was difficult and dangerous. In 2017, when the media first published an article about their legal battle, we received tens of thousands of messages of hate and threats, but we also received tens of thousands of messages from the community showing support for the fight we had taken up. Lilly and Dari put their own personal and family lives at risk to get to this day, when a public institution in the person of the European Court of Human Rights told them that they have the right to be a family and that all LGBTQ+ people are not second-hand citizens, but equal members of that community.

The team of LGBTI organization Deystvie would like to thank Lilly and Dari for their courage and perseverance in fighting for equal rights for LGBTIQ+ families in Bulgaria. We also thank you for your faith and trust in us!

Help us continue to change the world for LGBTIQ+ people in Bulgaria!

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1 commentaire

victor timely
victor timely
06 nov. 2023

awsome post😁

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