OPINION: Same-sex marriage is great, but the fight for equal rights isn't over
Astrid Eisenprobst reflects on Austria’s relationship with LGBT equality
On 5 December at around 10am CET, the Constitutional Court in Austria announced they had come to the decision that prohibiting same-sex couples the right to get married and only offering them a civil union is discriminatory. Starting on 1 January 2019, same-sex couples in Austria will be able to get married, and heterosexual couples will be allowed to enter a civil union.
Only two months ago, the Austrian’s People’s Party (ÖVP), a Christian democratic and (very) conservative party, was crowned the winner of the general election. They are currently forming a coalition with the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a right-wing populist party. Both parties strongly oppose same-sex marriage, claiming that being able to enter a civil union is equal to being able to get married, so there would have been no chance of having the law changed during the upcoming legislative period.
When Germany legalised same-sex marriage earlier this year, the Austrian Parliament voted on whether to discuss this possibility as well. However, this proposal was declined. Had they legalised same-sex marriage back then, it would have been easy for the ÖVP and the FPÖ to take it back now. But since the Constitutional Court made these changes, the law can never be changed again, which comes as a relief to many supporters of same-sex marriage in Austria.
Austria is a divided country. On the one hand, the drag queen Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2014, prompting the capital Vienna to act as the LGBT capital of the world. On the other hand, there are no laws saying it is discriminatory to refuse someone housing based on their sexual orientation. On the one hand, Vienna is a mostly LGBT-friendly city, with LGBT film festivals, bookshops, and bars. On the other hand, much of the countryside is deeply conservative.
Of course, the legalisation of same-sex marriage is a cause for celebration, and many people celebrated it on Tuesday evening. Considering what kind of government we’re facing, this news is a much-needed silver lining. Not to mention the schadenfreude some of us feel now the two most conservative parties are forced to legalise same-sex marriage.
Still, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. Not only did the last general election give rise to what I believe is the most right-wing government since World War II, but also the Austrian Green Party, forerunners when it comes to demanding equal rights for LGBT people, was kicked out of Parliament. Their frontrunner was Ulrike Lunacek, who used to be one of the Vice Presidents of the European Parliament. She is also a lesbian.
To end on a positive note, let’s not forget that the legalisation of same-sex marriage is due to the courage of a lesbian couple who demanded the right to get married. Together with their lawyer, Helmut Graupner, they fought for their basic human right and were successful. Without their work, we would have to wait for at least another five years, if not longer, to join the majority of Western Europe in treating same-sex relationships the same as heterosexual ones.
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