Bulgaria is one of the few countries in the European Union that has no legal protection for the families of same-sex partners. Same-sex couples don’t have various state and private benefits, tax benefits, inheritance rights, adoption rights, etc. Such rights are also excluded from the legal sphere of unmarried couples of different sex because their relationship is also not regulated by law. This is a consequence of the lack of regulation of the legal institute of “factual cohabitation” that does not exist in the country. And while different-sex couples have access to marriage, same-sex couples don’t have that and there is no way for their relationship to be legally recognized and for them to settle their rights because the Constitution limits marriage as a union concluded only between one man and one woman.
In the new 2009 Family Code, factual unions were deliberately excluded from the legal act for the sole purpose that same-sex couples are not able to use protection in that regard. This was the result of a request for an opinion made by the gay organization Gemini which asked the Commission for Protection from Discrimination to come up with an opinion on whether it would be discriminatory if the legal institute of “factual cohabitation” was introduced and people in a long-term relationship with a person of the same sex were deliberately excluded from it. The CPD has made an official statement that if the law was adopted and it excluded cohabitation of same-sex couples, this would be a discrimination. After the statement was officially published, the Council of Ministers decided that the public was not ready to recognize the relationship between people of the same sex and then, as a result, the whole legal institute of “factual cohabitation” was dropped from the law.
Since then, the Bulgarian judicial system, when asked to rule on discrimination in cases of same-sex couples, has been refusing to do so by referring to the Constitution which limits the marriage as such between a man and a woman, and endorses discrimination as legitimate. In its practice, the Bulgarian court refuses protection of domestic violence to persons when the couple is of the same sex, as it interprets the concept of “factual marital cohabitation” as referring to the definition of marriage, which in the Constitution of Bulgaria and the Family Code is “a union between a man and a woman”. Therefore, the court has been ruling, persons with an intimate partner of the same sex are excluded from the protection of the law. Such a court decision of the Bulgarian court is Order No. 26 of 07.10.2014 under file case No. 53154/2014 of the Sofia District Court. Thus, discrimination is not only legally justified, but it is also institutionalized.
The failure of the Bulgarian government to recognise marriage, or any other form of legalization of the same-sex family, applies to the families of both Bulgarian and foreign citizens. This is set out in a letter dated 19 October 2011 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria sent to the human rights organization Bulgarian Helsinki Committee for the purposes of the study “From A to B: Comparative Survey in seven cases on the (non) recognition of same-sex couples moving from one European country to another” of the Law School of the University of Leiden (the Netherlands). In doing so, Bulgaria is in violation of Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States (Free Movement Directive). The country refuses to treat same-sex families and partnerships as such and thus violates the freedom of movement of EU citizens and their families.
Same-sex couples recognized in another EU member state travelling or residing in Bulgaria. This includes couples from other EU member states, but also couples from Bulgaria who have sought recognition in another EU jurisdiction and have come back. The needs of this target group is to have their family/partnership status recognised in the host country, so they can fully enjoy the freedom of movement as an element of European citizenship. While this need cannot be instantly met by the project, it will aim to give them voice and spread the message on social and political level about the problems and barriers they face when in a host EU member state that fails to recognise them.
LGBTI community in Bulgaria. The need for this target group is to get more politically active and start raising its voice more loud and clear in terms of demands for policy changes that will advance LGBTI equality. The group needs to be informed, engaged in different levels and given the possibility to speak and act. We’re mainly addressing younger LGBTI people who are in general more open and thus can be more loud and visible.
General public. By general public we rather focus on LGBTI allies and a neutral social group which does not have a strong opinion on LGBTI rights or same-sex couples’ recognition. This is a group that could be won for support, should it be properly addressed and be presented with concrete personal experiences and stories, rather than general rhetoric. The main focus is on young audiences.
Authorities. That includes Bulgarian national and local authorities who perpetuate the practice of not recognising same-sex unions of other jurisdictions, as well as European level institutions with a central focus on the European Parliament. The need in regards to this target group is to provide them with evidence-based policy recommendations about the restrictions to freedom of movement within the EU for same-sex families and unions, but also to prove them that there is public support and social energy behind potential policy changes.
Our overall aim is to oppose discrimination practices of EU Member states who don’t treat same-sex couples recognized in another jurisdiction as such and thus violate the right of free movement within the European Union. Thus out objectives are:
To identify and analyse the situation of same-sex couples with recognition in another EU member state who travel or reside in Bulgaria;
To inform the LGBT community (in Bulgaria and abroad) about the limitations for freedom of movement across the EU for LGBT couples and mobilise support for change;
To raise awareness among authorities and the general public for the unfair and discriminatory way same-sex couples from other EU member states are treated and put pressure on them for change;
To put the freedom of movement for same-sex couples in the public agenda and initiate policy discussion on national and European level.
The expected results are to study and promote the situation of same same-sex couples with recognition in another EU member state who travel or reside in Bulgaria.
The partners for this project know each other and work together for a long time, bounded by their commitment for respect for Human Rights and LGBT rights in particular. Staff members of four (out of five) partner organisations are part of the Sofia Pride Organising Committee, while every partner has worked with the rest in different initiatives. The current proposal was initiated by Youth LGBT organization Deystvie (Action) and further developed by the whole partnership, which decided that Centre for Study of Democracy best fits as a lead applicant. There is an informal agreement for cooperation between all the actors involved in the LGBT theme in Bulgaria and the current partnership is a continuation of this agreement, where resources, know-how and opportunities are shared for the advancement of the cause.
Furthermore, the partnership relies on support and cooperation with associated partners, not officially included in the partnership: Thessaloniki Pride (Greece), Open Centre Association (Latvia), Brodoto (Croatia), MozaiQ (Romania), etc.
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