When Adrian Coman planned to bring his American husband to settle in his native Romania in 2012, little could he have known that he would be locked in a six-year legal battle against its government.
Same-sex marriage is not recognized in the eastern European nation and they were refused the legal right to reside in Romania together. This prompted the couple, who married in Brussels in 2010, to sue the Romanian government and take their case to court in 2012.
Residency permit denied
Adrian and Robert Claibourn ‘Clai’ Hamilton met in Central Park, New York City, in 2002. The relationship continued to flourish until 2012, when Adrian found himself out of work.
“I was here in Brussels, unemployed after having worked at the European Parliament,” Adrian told Euronews in December.
“We were trying to figure out a way to be together somewhere and Romania was one option. So I wrote a letter to the Romanian government asking how he can get residence in Romania based on the EU Free Movement Directive and we got a negative answer.”
Romania does not recognize gay marriages conducted abroad or at home, where it is prohibited. It is among six EU nations, including Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia, that do not offer legal recognition for same-sex relationships.
As a result, Clai was denied a residency permit. But the couple pressed on.
In 2013, they took their case to court, citing a breach to their freedom of movement rights and discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation. The case eventually found its way to the Romanian Constitutional Court, before it was referred to the European Court of Justice in November 2016.
“Romania effectively denied our right to free movement, safeguarded in EU principles and law,” Adrian told an LGBTI organisation in 2016.
“The Romanian Consulate in Brussels also refused to transcribe our Belgian marriage certificate into the Romanian register. That was a humiliating and sad moment.”
'Second-class citizens in the European Union'
Freedom of movement allows citizens of the European Union to live and work in any member state, subject to certain conditions.
But since only 13 countries in the 28-member bloc allow gay marriage, EU citizens in same-sex relationships or civil partnerships are not guaranteed the same rights as heterosexual couples across the Union.
However, support from a senior advisor to the ECJ hints that this could soon change.
Ahead of an ECJ ruling on the case, Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said on Thursday that the term "spouse" in EU law should apply to partners of the same sex when it comes to the freedom of residence of EU citizens and their family members.
Judges are not bound by the view of an advocate general, but their opinion is normally followed by the full court.
In response to the news, the president of the Romanian Anti-Discrimination Council said freedom of movement for same-sex couples in the Union should be “mandatory” for all member states.
“Otherwise we are going to have European citizens with a different status, second-class citizens in the European Union,” Csaba Asztalos told Euronews.
Adrian and Clai’s case has attracted national and international attention, and will have major implications for the legal recognition of same-sex marriages across Europe should the ECJ rule in their favour.
Clai, who now lives with Adrian in the United States, told Euronews last night: “We can hopefully now be closer to being recognised as a family.
"I am grateful this is an opportunity that may lead to me finally one day residing in Romania with my husband.”