Poland must recognise same-sex partnerships, European Court rules

In a landmark case, the European Court ruled that Poland’s lack of recognition of same-sex unions is a human rights violation.

Pride parade in Warsaw, Poland, where same-sex unions are not legally recognised. A lot of people march in the streets, waving Pride flags.
Image: Via X - @HannaLiubakova

On Tuesday, December 12, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Poland is violating the right to respect for a private life with its lack of legal recognition of same-sex unions. The decision will put pressure on the new Polish government to introduce protections for same-sex couples.

The case in question was brought before the Court by ten Poles, who argued that the vast majority of Council of Europe member states already offer either a right to marry or to enter civil partnerships for same-sex couples. They filed the complaint after attempting to have their unions legally recognised in Poland, where registry offices and courts rejected their requests, citing the lack of legal possibility in the country.

Specifically, they were told that same-sex unions couldn’t be recognised in Poland based on Article 18 of the constitution, which states: “Marriage as a union of a man and a woman, family, motherhood and parenthood shall be placed under the protection and care of the Republic of Poland.”

However, with its landmark decision, the European Court of Human Rights found that “the Polish state had failed to comply with its duty to ensure a specific legal framework providing for the recognition and protection of same-sex unions”.

Ruling in favour of the 10 applicants, the Court stated that the state’s failure to legally recognise same-sex unions “had resulted in the applicants’ inability to regulate fundamental aspects of their lives and amounted to a breach of their right[s]”, including matters concerning property, maintenance, taxation and inheritance.


The judges rejected the argument brought by the Polish government that “the traditional concept of marriage as a union of a man and a woman constituted Poland’s social and legal heritage”. They also dismissed the idea that recognising same-sex unions “could harm families constituted in the traditional way”, specifying that “securing rights to same-sex couples does not in itself entail weakening the rights secured to other people or opposite-sex couples.”

Moreover, the Court pointed out “the increasingly hostile and homophobic attitudes towards sexual minorities displayed by high-ranking politicians from the ruling party” in recent years. The decision also stated that the arguments put forward by the Polish government “had not differed substantially from those relied on by the Russian Federation” in a previous similar case.

Among such arguments was the claim that most Poles are opposed to same-sex unions. However, the court noted that the applicants had submitted evidence of the growing support for same-sex couples in Poland, and further pointed out that in any case prevailing social attitudes do not justify the violation of human rights.

Speaking after the ruling, Grzegorz Lepianka, one of the applicants, said: “It took a long time, definitely too long. But I finally have some hope for real and truly good changes.”

Lawyer Paweł Knut, who represented one of the couples, spoke to a Polish news outlet, saying that he hoped that the landmark ruling “will be the final recognition of the demands for legal protection that same-sex couples have been raising in the national public debate for over two decades”.


The Love Does Not Exclude Association, which also supported the applicants in court, said the ruling would put “serious pressure” on the new Polish government to introduce same-sex partnerships. “Since the new government wants to rebuild Poland’s reputation… and prove that the rule of law crisis has ended, it will not be able to ignore the voices of international bodies such as the tribunal,” it said in a statement.

Following the national elections earlier in October, the previous conservative government has been replaced by a more liberal coalition of parties. Pro-EU candidate Donald Tusk of the Civic Coalition party has been sworn in as Prime Minister this morning, after the coalition won a vote of confidence in parliament last night.

During the election campaign, Tusk said that his party considered the introduction of same-sex partnerships in Poland a priority. He also pledged to uphold women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, and as a sign of the party’s commitment, his cabinet will be the first one in Poland to include a Minister for Equality.

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