Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where the Iron Curtain Persists.

A European Union Human Rights Court that has been deliberating a case presented by a gay Austrian couple about the right to marriage being a fundamental right has presented its findings. And it isn't exactly looking all that good for European people who have a strange, though completely natural, attraction to people of the same sex.

Or, for simplicity's sake, people like myself.

The court decided that the right to marry is not a fundamental human right, and as a result, the refusal (I prefer the term failure, personally) to grant the right of marriage to same-sex couples is not recognized by the court as representative of a breach of equality rights legislation.

I'm sure that makes sense to somebody, somewhere. Apparently that somewhere being in Europe.

My immediate response to this is to consider how this is going to affect my own personal life. I do not hide my interest in living in Europe, including in those nations that refuse to grant same-sex unions any sort of official recognition. There is fascinating history there that should be read.

But instead I am going to look into how this may affect gay couples in Europe. In many parts of Europe (I believe six countries) same-sex couples can get married. In many other parts they can be granted a civil union recognized (seven other countries). Eleven member countries in the European Union refuse to offer any sort of recognition to them. For some reason, the same love is denied the same rights.

Europe is a fascinating continent though. There are parts of Europe that have been leaders in granting same-sex couples state recognition and state benefits. Other parts are still stuck in the past - caught in an era of pre-Stonewall Riot intensity in fighting the "maniacal spread of homosexuality" amongst the population.

This is most true in those nations that were once satellite states of the Soviet regime. Under the regime of most of the Soviet states (and the socialist in me is pained by this unfortunate reality), homosexuality was illegal. It never received the recognition of state officials, it was never given the chance for tolerance in society because people refused to come out of the closet - they refused to out themselves, to be shipped off, and to never be seen or heard from again.

It is no longer illegal to be homosexual in any of the European states. But, judging by the social reality, it might as well be.

I can recall the moment when I was granted the right to marry. As I've mentioned before, I walked around school with a silent and hidden grin inside - I was happy. Joyful even. For the first moment in my life, I saw the hint that I could have a future - there was hope. There was the acknowledgment that I could be myself, regardless of the hatred that I sensed in my environment - and that I could be myself for the rest of my life. Disregard the fact that I stayed in the closet for another 6 years. I was joyful for one day.

I must also note that society has responded to the granting of same-sex couples the right to marry very, very positively. There has been a shift - a tremor in the ground that has altered the foundation of society. Suddenly, after getting used to it a bit, after attending a ceremony or two celebrating the love shared between two men or two women, society accepts gay marriage - accepts homosexuality. Not totally. Maybe accept is even the wrong term - it is a helluva lot closer to tolerance. But it has been felt by myself and everybody else.

But the state took a step, with less than 50% of popular support, on my behalf - it took an enormous risk, and it changed Canada as a result. Thank God.

Perhaps Europe, and the European Union Human Rights Court would like to take a note about this. The fact is that consensus is not going to take place in my life - but by forcing society to change for the better of the minority, Canadians have learned to accept the gay community just that much more. I refuse to accept that Europe, even though the fight is harder, would be different.

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