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Bulgarian Court Backs Same-sex Couple's EU Residence Rights


FILE - Revellers cheer during the annual Sofia Pride parade in Sofia, Bulgaria, June 9, 2018.

A Sofia court has backed the right of a same-sex couple to live in Bulgaria, activists announced Wednesday, in the first such case for the EU nation that does not recognize gay marriage.

The court claim was brought up by an Australian woman who was banned from residing in Bulgaria in 2017 together with her French spouse after the couple got married in France in mid-2016, the youth LGBT organization Action said.

But the ruling on June 29 by the Sofia administrative court 29 overturned the interior ministry's migration directorate ban, saying that upholding it would "hinder the right of the EU partner to move and reside freely in the territory of the EU."

The ruling was also in line with a decision of the EU's top court of justice in Luxembourg on June 5, stating that EU laws on freedom of movement oblige all member states to allow residency of the non-European spouses of EU citizens, including same-sex partners, even if they did not recognize same-sex marriage.

"I am happy to celebrate not only my right to live in Bulgaria but also the right of every same-sex couple to benefit from its right of freedom of movement in the EU," the Australian partner, named only as Kristina, was cited by Action as saying.

The court ruling can still be appealed, however.

Bulgaria does not allow same-sex marriage and the Sofia administrative court also refused in January to recognize the marriage of two Bulgarian women, who wedded in Britain in mid-November 2016.

Public opinion in the Balkan country is deeply divided over the issue with negative sentiments particularly incited by several nationalist fractions that are part of the conservative government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

A massive campaign led by the nationalists and the opposition Socialists hindered the ratification earlier this year of the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women, which many in the country see as a vehicle for recognition of "a third gender."

Reports of violence against gay people are rare but prejudice and discrimination remain a problem in Bulgaria, the U.S. Department of State 2017 Human Rights Report said.

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