LGBT rights in European Union
European Union
StatusNever criminalised in EU law.
Last state criminalisation repealed in 1998.
MilitaryAllowed to serve openly in all states
Discrimination protectionsOutlawed in employment with further protections in some member states' law
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage in 16/27 states
Recognition of same-sex unions in 24/27 states
No recognition of same-sex couples in 3/27 states
RestrictionsSame-sex marriage constitutional ban in 7/27 states.
AdoptionJoint adoption in 17/27 states
Step-child adoption in 20/27 states

LGBT rights in the European Union are protected under the European Union's (EU) treaties and law. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in all EU member states and discrimination in employment has been banned since 2000. However, EU states have different laws when it comes to any greater protection, same-sex civil union, same-sex marriage, and adoption by same-sex couples.

Treaty protections

The Treaty on European Union, in its last version as updated by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 and in force as of 2009, makes the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union legally binding for the member states of the European Union when applying EU law, and the European Union itself. In turn, Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union includes an anti-discrimination provision that states that "any discrimination based on any ground such as [...] sexual orientation shall be prohibited."[1][2][3]

Furthermore, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides in Articles 10 that the European Union has a positive duty to combat discrimination (among other things) on the grounds of sexual orientation and provides in Article 19 ways for the Council and the European Parliament to actively propose pass legislation to do so. These provisions were enacted by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999.[1][2]

Legislative protection

LGB rights
Trans rights
Lesbian, gay, bisexual (left image) and trans (right image) rights in the European Union.

Discrimination in employment

Following the inclusion in the Treaties of the above-mentioned provisions, Directive 2000/78/EC "Directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation" was enacted in 2000. This framework directive compels all EU states to adopt anti-discrimination legislation in employment. That legislation has to include provisions to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[2]

In practice, this protects EU citizens from being refused a job, or from being fired, because of their sexual orientation[citation needed]. It also protects them from being harassed by a colleague due to their sexual orientation[citation needed].

EU staff

While Directive 2000/78/CE does not technically apply to the EU institutions themselves,[4] the EU Staff Regulations[5] provide in Article 1d:

In the application of these Staff Regulations, any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age, or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.
For the purposes of these Staff Regulations, non-marital partnerships shall be treated as marriage provided that all the conditions listed in Article 1(2)(c) of Annex VII are fulfilled.

And the conditions listed in Article 1(2)(c) of Annex VII are the following:

(i) the couple produces a legal document recognised as such by a Member State, or any competent authority of a Member State, acknowledging their status as non-marital partners,
(ii) neither partner is in a marital relationship or in another non-marital partnership,
(iii) the partners are not related in any of the following ways: parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece, son-in-law, daughter-in-law,
(iv) the couple has no access to legal marriage in a Member State; a couple shall be considered to have access to legal marriage for the purposes of this point only where the members of the couple meet all the conditions laid down by the legislation of a Member State permitting marriage of such a couple

Thereby, the Staff Regulations outlaw discrimination of EU staff based on sex (which includes gender reassignment[6]) or sexual orientation and guarantee that registered same-sex couples are not excluded from benefits awarded to married couples due to not having access to the institution of marriage.

Discrimination in the provisioning of goods and services

Directive 2000/78/EC does not cover being refused medical services or treatment, refusal of being given a double room in a hotel, protection from bullying in a school and refusal of social security schemes (e.g. survivors' pensions and financial assistance to carers). Protection under EU law in these circumstances exists, but is granted on the grounds of race or gender only.[7]

As such, in 2008, a proposal of a Directive to more broadly fight discrimination has been introduced, which would outlaw discrimination in the areas of social protection, social advantages, education and access to supply of goods, on the basis of religious belief, disability, age, and sexual orientation.[8] However, despite strong support from the European Parliament, the directive has since been stalled in the Council.[9]

Transgender rights

EU law currently takes a different approach to transgender issues. Despite the European Parliament adopting a resolution on transgender rights as early as 1989, transgender identity is not incorporated into any EU funding and was not mentioned in the law establishing the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) as sexual orientation was. However, the case law of the European Court of Justice provides some protection by interpreting discrimination on the basis of 'sex' to also refer to people who have had 'gender reassignment'. Thus all EU sex discrimination law applies to transgender people.[2] However, the literature criticised this approach, and there are calls to protect transgender people against discrimination based on their gender identity instead of sex.[10] In 2002, the 1976 equal treatment directive was revised to include discrimination based on gender identity, to reflect case law on the directive.[11] As of now, transgender EU citizens face significant difficulties when exercising their right to free movement and other rights associated with their Union citizenship status.[12]

Intersex rights

In February 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the rights of intersex people. The resolution called European Union member states to legislate better policies that protected intersex individuals, especially from unnecessary surgery and discrimination. It stated that the parliament "strongly condemns sex-normalizing treatments and surgery; welcomes laws that prohibit such surgery, as in Malta and Portugal, and encourages other member states to adopt similar legislation as soon as possible." The resolution also urged legal gender recognition based on self-determination. It also confirms that intersex people are "exposed to multiple instances of violence and discrimination in the European Union" and calls on the European Commission and the Members States to propose legislation to address these issues. It also includes the need of adequate counselling and support for intersex people and their families, measures to end the stigma and pathologisation intersex people face and increased funding for intersex-led civil society organisations.[13][14][15]

Other actions

Between 2001 and 2006, a Community Action Programme to Combat Discrimination involved the expenditure of €100 million to fight discrimination in a number of areas, including sexual orientation.[11]

In 2009, the European Commission has acted to tone down a law in Lithuania that included homophobic language and also aimed to support the gay pride parade in the country and others under threat of banning.[2]

Foreign relations

In June 2010, the Council of the European Union adopted a non-binding toolkit to promote LGBT people's human rights.[16][17]

In June 2013, the Council upgraded it to binding LGBTI Guidelines instructing EU diplomats around the world to defend the human rights of LGBTI people.[18][19]

Same-sex unions

Further information: Recognition of same-sex unions in Europe

Same-sex unions in the European Union
  Marriage
  Civil unions equivalent to marriage
  Unregistered cohabitation
  Residency rights for foreign spouses

Same-sex marriage has been legalised in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. Same-sex civil unions have been legalised in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and Spain. In Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Ireland, civil partnerships were legal between 1989 and 2012, and between 1995 and 2009, and between 2002 and 2017, and between 2011 and 2015, respectively. In Germany, registered life partnerships were legal between 2001 and 2017. However, existing civil unions/registered life partnerships are still recognised in all of these countries[citation needed].

Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia have constitutionally defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. In December 2020, Hungary also explicitly legally banned adoption for same-sex couples within its constitution.[20][21]

European Union law (the Citizens’ Rights Directive 2004/38/EC) requires those member states that legalised same-sex partnerships to recognise each other's partnerships for the purpose of freedom of movement.[22] The European Parliament has however approved a report calling for mutual recognition.[23][24]

According to European Court of Justice case law based on the Employment Equality Framework Directive, employees in a civil partnership with a same-sex partner must be granted the same benefits as those granted to their colleagues upon their marriage, where marriage is not possible for same-sex couples. The Court established this principle in 2008 in the case of Tadao Maruko v. Versorgungsanstalt der deutschen Bühnen with regards to a German registered life partnership. In December 2013, the Court confirmed this in the case of Frédéric Hay v. Crédit agricole mutuel (C-267/12) with regards to a French civil solidarity pact, which is significantly inferior to marriage than a German registered life partnership.[25][26]

Also, according to the European Court of Justice in the case of Coman and Others, by judgement of 5 June 2018, a "spouse" (or partner or any other family member) in the Free Movement Directive (2004/38/EC) includes a (foreign) same-sex spouse; member states are required to confer the right of residence on the (foreign) same-sex spouse of a citizen of the European Union.[27][28] However, most of east-central European new EU member countries (A8 countries) do not recognise same-sex unions themselves, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania, but are still bound by a ruling by the European Court of Justice to recognise same-sex marriages performed within the EU and including an EU citizen for the purposes of granting legal residence,[29] though they do not always respect this ruling in practice (in case of Romania is still ignoring implementation of the ruling).[30]

Family rights

In 2021, 10 EU member states refused to recognize same-sex couples as joint parents to their children. This leads to situations where two people recognized as parents in one country would have their family ties legally dissolve after crossing a border. A frequently encountered issue is that birth certificates issued in one member state and listing two people of the same sex as parents are not recognized in other countries. Some children do not have passports as a result.[31] The pending CJEU case V.M.A. v. Stolichna Obsthina involves a child who could not claim Bulgarian nationality because her parents were a lesbian couple.[32] A policy brief commissioned by European Parliament Committee on Petitions recommends that the European Commission or the CJEU should clarify that Directive 2004/38 on free movement also applies to rainbow families, who should not be discriminated against in their exercise of EU free movement rights.[31] The case was finally decided on 14 December 2021, with the CJEU accepting the position of the European Parliament Committee on Petitions, and finding Bulgaria in breach of EU law for not issuing documents to the child of the lesbian couple. The decision points out that while it is still a Member State's prerogative to decide whether or not to extend same-sex marriage and LGBT adoption rights to its own citizen, this choice cannot come at the expense of the child being deprived of the relationship of one of her parents while exercising her rights to freedom of movement within the EU.[33][34]

Conversion therapy

In March 2018, a majority of representatives in the European Parliament passed a resolution in a 435–109 vote condemning conversion therapy and urging European Union member states to ban the practice.[35][36][37] A report released by the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights after the measure was passed stated that "Currently, only Malta and some regions in Spain have explicitly banned LGBTI conversion therapies."[38] Conversion therapy for minors was banned in Germany in 2020,[39] in France in 2022,[40] and in Belgium, Cyprus, and Portugal in 2023. Bans have also been proposed in Ireland, Netherlands and Austria[citation needed].

Member State laws on sexual orientation

Further information: LGBT rights in Europe § Legislation by country or territory

Openly gay people are allowed to serve in the military of every EU country since 2018[citation needed].

In December 2016, Malta became the first country in the EU – as well as in Europe – to ban conversion therapy.[41][42][43]

LGBT rights in: Unregistered cohabitation Civil union Marriage Adoption Anti-discrimination laws Hate crime/speech laws
Austria Austria Yes (Since 2003)[44] Yes (Registered Partnership since 2010)[45] Yes (Since 2019)[46][47][48] Yes (Since 2016)[49] All[50] Yes[50]
Belgium Belgium No Yes (Legal Cohabitation since 2000)[51] Yes (Since 2003)[52] Yes (Since 2006)[53] All[50] Yes
Bulgaria Bulgaria No No Constitutional ban since 1991[54] No All[50] Yes[55]
Croatia Croatia Yes (Since 2003)[56][57] Yes (Life Partnership since 2014)[57] Constitutional ban since 2013[58] Yes (Since 2022)[59] All[50] Yes
Cyprus Cyprus No Yes (Civil Cohabitation since 2015) [60] No No All[61] Yes[62]
Czech Republic Czech Republic Yes (Since 2001)[63] Yes (Registered Partnership since 2006, expanded in 2024 - effective from January 1, 2025)[64] No Yes (Step-child or partial adoption from January 1, 2025)[65] All Yes
Denmark Denmark Yes (Since 1986)
[66]
Registered Partnership from 1989 to 2012; certain partnerships are still recognised Yes (Since 2012)[67] Yes (Since 2010)[68] All[50] Yes
Estonia Estonia No Yes (Cohabitation Agreement since 2016)[69] Yes (Since 2024)[70][71] Yes (Since 2024) All[50] Yes[50]
Finland Finland No Registered Partnership from 1989 to 2012; certain partnerships are still recognised[72] Yes (Since 2017)[73] Yes (Since 2017) All[50] Yes[50]
France France Yes (Since 1999)[74] Yes (Civil Solidarity Pact since 1999)[74] Yes (Since 2013)[75] Yes (Since 2013)[citation needed] All[50] Yes
Germany Germany No Life Partnership from 2001 to 2017; certain partnerships are still recognised[76] Yes (Since 2017)[77] Yes (Since 2017)[78][76] All[50] Yes[79]
Greece Greece No Yes (Cohabitation Agreement since 2015)[80] Yes (Since 2024)[81] Yes (Since 2024)[81] All Yes
Hungary Hungary Yes (Since 1996)[82][83] Yes (Registered Partnership since 2009)[84] Constitutional ban since 2012[85][86] Constitutional ban since 2020[87] All[50] Yes[50]
Republic of Ireland Ireland Yes (Since 2011)[88] Civil Partnership from 2011 to 2015; certain partnerships are still recognised[88] Yes (since 2015)[89] Yes (Since 2017)[90] All[50] Yes
Italy Italy Yes (since 2016)[91] Yes (Civil Union since 2016)[92] In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages performed abroad must be registered as civil unions[93] Stepchild adoption admitted by the Court of Cassation since 2016[94] Some[vague] No
Latvia Latvia No Yes (Partnership agreement - effective from July 1, 2024) Constitutional ban since 2006[95] No Some[vague] No
Lithuania Lithuania No No Constitutional ban since 1992[96] No All[50] Yes[50]
Luxembourg Luxembourg No Yes (Partnership since 2004)[97] Yes (Since 2015)[98] Yes (Since 2015) All[99] Yes[100]
Malta Malta Yes (Since 2017)[101] Yes (Civil Union since 2014)[102] Yes (Since 2017)[103] Yes (Since 2014)[102] All[104] Yes[50]
Netherlands Netherlands Yes (Since 1979)[105] Yes (Registered Partnership since 1998)[106] Yes (Since 2001)[107] Yes (Since 2001) All[50] Yes
Poland Poland Yes (Since 2012) No Constitutional ban since 1997[108][109][110][111][112][113] No Some[vague] No
Portugal Portugal Yes (De facto union since 2001)[114][115] No Yes (Since 2010)[116] Yes (Since 2016)[citation needed] All[50] Yes
Romania Romania No No No No All[50] Yes
Slovakia Slovakia Yes (Limited rights for "close person" recognized under civil and penal law since 2018)[117][118] No Constitutional ban since 2014[119] No All[50] Yes[120]
Slovenia Slovenia Yes (Since 2006)[121] Registered Partnership from 2006 to 2023[122] Yes (Since 2022)[123] Yes (Since 2022) All[50] Yes[50]
Spain Spain Yes (Since 1995)[124][125] Yes (All regions and autonomous cities of Spain since 2018)[citation needed] Yes (Since 2005)[126] Yes (Since 2005) All[50] Yes
Sweden Sweden Yes (Since 1988)[127][128][129] Registered Partnership from 1995 to 2009; certain partnerships are still recognised[130] Yes (Since 2009)[131] Yes (Since 2003)[132] All[50] Yes

Due to the Cyprus dispute placing Northern Cyprus outside the Republic of Cyprus' control, EU law is suspended in the area governed by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

LGBT rights in: Civil union Marriage Adoption Anti-discrimination laws Hate crime/speech laws
Northern Cyprus Northern Cyprus No No No All Yes

Public opinion

Below is the share of respondents per country who agreed with the following statements in the 2023 Eurobarometer on Discrimination.[133] For comparison, green background in the second column indicates that the country allows full joint adoption for same-sex couples (silver background some form of second-parent adoption) and green background in the fourth column that it allows same-sex marriage (silver background for some form of civil partnership).

Member state "There is nothing wrong
in a sexual relationship between
two persons of the same sex"
"Same sex marriages should be
allowed throughout Europe"
"Lesbian, gay and bisexual people
should have the same rights
as heterosexual people (marriage, adoption, parental rights)" [a]
Change from 2019
on last statement
 European Union 74% 72% 69% +3
 Austria 66% 65% 59% -1
 Belgium 80% 79% 77% -3
 Bulgaria 21% 17% 21% +1
 Croatia 39% 42% 35% +3
 Cyprus 46% 50% 45% +14
 Czech Republic 70% 60% 54% +12
 Denmark 93% 93% 92% +4
 Estonia 51% 41% 37% +0
 Finland 82% 76% 75% +0
 France 84% 79% 78% +0
 Germany 84% 84% 81% +0
 Greece 57% 57% 44% +18
 Hungary 49% 42% 44% +9
 Ireland 83% 86% 84% +7
 Italy 71% 69% 63% +11
 Latvia 35% 36% 39% +12
 Lithuania 42% 39% 29% +9
 Luxembourg 86% 84% 81% -1
 Malta 78% 74% 68% +7
 Netherlands 94% 94% 95% +2
 Poland 55% 50% 41% +5
 Portugal 73% 81% 79% +7
 Romania 27% 25% 27% -4
 Slovakia 47% 37% 35% +17
 Slovenia 58% 62% 42% +0
 Spain 89% 88% 87% +2
 Sweden 95% 94% 94% +2

Notes

1.^a. In 2023 the question was altered slightly from previous years to specify marriage and adoption rights.

See also

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