Gay Marriage and Immigration in Europe

Countries in Europe were among the first to grant legal status to same sex relationships, either in terms of marriage or civil partnership. Among the countries in the world which allow citizens to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration, eleven are in Europe and these are Belgium,  Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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Countries where gay marriages are recognized

Despite the above eleven countries allowing immigration of gay partners, not all of them recognize gay marriages according to the laws of the country. The countries where same-sex marriages are recognized are Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Spain. In 2001, Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriages. The law legalizing same-sex marriage is only valid in the European territory of the Netherlands and does not apply to the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; thus same-sex couples cannot get legally married in Aruba, Curacao and Sin Martin though Dutch law makes it imperative that any marriage by Dutch law be recognized in all parts of the Kingdom of Netherlands. Same sex marriages are also allowed in Belgium. Initially there were restrictions based on the nationality of the partners, but as of now Belgian permits any couple to marry in Belgium if at least one of the spouses has lived in the country for a minimum of three months. In 2009, two Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden legalized same-sex marriages by adopting a new, gender-neutral law on marriage. Same-sex marriage became legalized in Spain from July 2005 after the Spanish Parliament passed the gay marriage measure on Thursday, 30 June 2005. The law also allows gay couples to adopt children and inherit property. The law had aroused a lot of controversy since Spain is a predominantly Catholic nation and the Catholic Church has been officially opposed to same-sex marriages.

In countries where same-sex marriage is legal, all rights accorded to a heterosexual marriage – like tax, property, inheritance law and the procedure for divorce - are the same in gay marriage too and there are no exceptions. This means that in countries like Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, immigration laws for gay partners are also the same as for heterosexual partners in these countries. In these countries, wherever it is possible for a non-citizen to become a legal resident, immigration is also possible for a foreign gay partner.

Countries where registered partnerships exists for gay couples

“Registered Partner” status available for citizens of Denmark, Greenland, Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden can be used for immigration if one partner is already a citizen in one of those countries. The status of a registered partnership may be sufficient for a gay couple to immigrate elsewhere, because the registration is not equivalent to legal marriage and therefore not necessarily recognized by other countries.

In France, for immigration, one must prove they have an independent means of support for one year on a tourist visa before applying for a “carte de sejour.” Obtaining a PACS relationship contract or a Civil Solidarity Pact as it is known in English, does not mean that application for immigration status will be expedited.

In Great Britain, “Civil Partnerships” were instituted on November 19, 2004, and came into effect on December 5, 2005. Interestingly this is only available to same-sex couples and even opposite-sex couples cannot apply for civil partnership. This legal status allows gay couples recognition for immigration and nationality purposes. At present, this is the best option in Britain to allow same-sex couples from two different countries to keep their family intact.

Most of these immigration-friendly countries require applicant couples to show proof of their relationship, including evidence they have lived together for anything from one-to-four years. This requirement is often difficult, or impossible, to meet, given that partners often cannot legally stay in each other’s country for extended periods of time. Among the European countries where gay partners can immigrate, only Netherlands offers exemptions to the living together requirement and other countries in the world to do it are Canada and South Africa.

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Asylum for gay partner

Apart from applying as the partner of a gay citizen or permanent resident for the purpose of immigration, an alien can also seek asylum in certain countries of Europe. Besides Belgium, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and UK where in any case gay partnership or marriage is already recognized, Germany, Great Britain, Austria and Ireland have laws allowing political asylum to lesbians and gay men, as members of a “distinct social class,” based on experienced or likely persecution as homosexual in their home countries. However this route to immigration is often very difficult to obtain, with a heavy burden to prove that the persecution exists. But even then gay bi-national couples who are keen to be with each other can explore this option, provided they can find genuine grounds for application of asylum status.

Both gay relationships and immigration are exceedingly complex issues in Europe which is trying to balance sexual freedom with the need to fight illegal immigration. Things become even more complicated since unlike the legal clarity of a heterosexual marriage which is the same for all countries, gay relationships occupy a wide spectrum of legality which again varies from one country to another. So while these countries in Europe may welcome gay immigrants, the basis on which they are allowed to stay may vary widely and create grounds for legal difficulties.