Hungarian Constitutional Court declares registered partnership law unconstitutional

Less than three weeks before its expected entry into force, the Hungarian Constitutional Court has ruled today that the law enabling same sex and different sex couples to register their partnership and gain rights similar to those of married couples is unconstitutional. The decision followed several petitions submitted by Christian and conservative groups who have criticized the law for equalizing same sex partnership with that of marriage. The Court found that the unconstitutionality of the law arises not from the fact that it extends the rights of same sex couples, but that the new institution is also open for different sex couples. This leaves open the possibility for Government and legislation to introduce a new law on registered partnership available only for same sex couples.

The Act CLXXXIV of 2007 on Registered Partnership that the Constitutional Court has found unconstitutional today was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament a year ago on December 17, 2007. The law introduced a new family law institution for both same sex and different sex couples granting nearly all the rights of married couples to registered partners. Notable exceptions were the right to take the partners' name and the right to adopt children. Political parties were highly divided on the proposal: the governing Hungarian Socialist Party and its junior coalition partner the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats supported the bill, Christian Democrats and the largest right wing party FIDESZ fiercely opposed it; the moderate conservative Hungarian Democratic Forum was divided in the voting. Soon after the bill was adopted, several Christian and conservative groups filed petition with the Constitutional Court to declare the law unconstitutional.

After three months of debate the Constitutional Court has delivered its opinion today. The decision argues that by allowing different sex couples to enter into a relationship very similar to that of marriage duplicates the institution of marriage, and thus contradicts the special protection of marriage enshrined in the Constitution. On the other hand, the Court also confirmed that the right of same sex couples to legal recognition and protection can be derived from the constitutional principle of human dignity, and the related rights to self-determination and freedom of action. The Court explicitly refused arguments in the petitions that registered partnership for same sex couples would undermine heterosexual marriage, since married couples are not affected negatively by granting similar rights to another group.

Following the decision Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány instructed the Minister of Justice and Law Enforcement to prepare a new bill on registered partnership taking into account the opinion of the Court. Since legal and institutional changes needed for the introduction of registered partnership have been implemented during the past year, the new amended legislation could enter into force within a short period of time. The only point of concern is whether his fellow socialist party members, whose primary argument for registered partnership in the parliamentary debate was to help unmarried heterosexual couples, are willing to support a new bill if it concerns only same sex couples.

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