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HomeBalkans‘Historic’ Ruling Requires Bulgaria To Recognise Same-sex Relationships

‘Historic’ Ruling Requires Bulgaria To Recognise Same-sex Relationships

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The European Court of Human Rights, ECHR in Strasbourg ruled on Tuesday in favour of a same-sex couple, Darina Koilova and Lilia Babulkova, whose marriage in the UK was repeatedly not recognised by Bulgarian institutions.

The ECHR ruled that the Bulgarian state is obliged to create a legal framework that allows same-sex couples adequate recognition and protection.

“What is essential in this ruling is that, even though there is no specific deadline to implement the framework, the state is required to go through this process and in collaboration with the Council of Europe,” Denitsa Lyubenova, a human rights activist, lawyer and member of the Deystvie LGBTIQ+ collective, told BIRN.

Lyubenova, whose team has represented Babulkova and Koilova from the beginning of their seven-year legal battle, described the ruling as historic and a big step towards equality in Bulgaria as the creation of an improved framework will help prevent the problem of couples existing in a legal vacuum.

Babulkova and Koilova have been together for over 14 years, and in 2016, they married in the UK.

In 2017, Bulgaria’s Sofia municipality declined to recognise their marriage on the basis of the constitution defining the marriage as an act between men and women.

Babulkova, Koilova and Lyubenova tried to file a lawsuit against the municipality but in 2019, the Administrative Court and the Supreme Court reconfirmed the municipality’s position.

In January 2020, BIRN reported on their uphill battle for recognition and plans to take their case to Strasbourg. Later in 2020, the couple filed a complaint against Bulgaria, claiming a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private and family life).

Babulkova and Koilova’s struggles have also gained media attention in Bulgaria and the case quickly became symbolic for the country’s LGBT community.

In addition to the case for the recognition of their marriage, Babulkova and Koilova are pursuing a case at Sofia City Court to change Koilova’s surname.

The couple are also suing the Centre for Assisted Reproduction, where they were denied funding for a procedure.

“From now on, the ECHR’s ruling will definitely be a factor in these cases,” said Lyubenova.

In an unrelated case in June last year, the Strasbourg court  ordered Bulgaria to pay compensation to the mother of a 26-year old man killed in a homophobic murder in Sofia in 2008 and required Bulgarian law to include homophobia as an aggravating factor. On July 23, the parliament introduced tougher penalties for homophobic crimes in the state’s criminal code.

The ECHR’s ruling in the Babulkova and Koilova also requires Bulgaria to address transgender rights, which remain largely unprotected in Bulgaria.

In February, the Supreme Court ruled that transgender people will no longer be eligible to change their documents in accordance with their identity, a decision that rights activists predicted would only lead to more cases being brought against Bulgaria at the ECHR.

Note: The headline of this news has been slightly corrected on September 5, 2023 to properly reflect the nature of court ruling.

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