EU nations that have yet to legalise gay marriage will be forced to give same-sex couples the same residency rights as heterosexual partners - a European court has ruled.
The bloc's top court ruled on Tuesday that same-sex couples should be allowed to live in any EU member state - even in countries where same-sex marriage is still banned.
EU laws on freedom of movement extend to the non-European spouses of EU citizens and the European Court of Justice judgement means this also includes same-sex partners.
The decision, based on a case from Romania, risks further embittering relations between more socially tolerant member states to the west of the EU and conservative countries to the east.
In a case which has highlighted social differences between western Europe and a more conservative, ex-communist east, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Romania must accept the validity of the mens' 2010 Belgian marriage and treat American Clai Hamilton as Adrian Coman's spouse under EU law.
The case did not touch on the freedom of member states to set their own matrimony laws, although campaigners have called on Brussels to push states to legalise same-sex marriage as a fundamental human right. Rather it upheld rights of EU citizens to move freely across the bloc along with their families.
'Although the member states have the freedom whether or not to authorise marriage between persons of the same sex,' the judges said, 'They may not obstruct the freedom of residence of an EU citizen by refusing to grant his same-sex spouse, a national of a country that is not an EU member state, a derived right of residence in their territory.'
The case arose because Hamilton's right as a non-EU citizen to live in Romania permanently was dependent on his status as Coman's spouse. Coman challenged a Romanian decision to limit Hamilton's residence to a three-month visa and a Romanian court referred the matter to the ECJ in Luxembourg.
Coman welcomed the ruling: 'We can now look in the eyes of any public official in Romania and across the EU with certainty that our relationship is equally valuable and equally relevant for the purpose of free movement within the EU,' he said.
The deputy leader of the liberal bloc in the European Parliament, Sophie in 't Veld, said: 'This is fantastic news and a landmark opinion for rainbow families.
'Freedom of movement is a right of all EU citizens. It cannot be restricted because of whom they love.'
The European Commission insisted that the ruling was not part of a push from Brussels to force social change in the bloc.
'Member states are in charge - but this is a useful clarification in terms of avoiding discrimination,' spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters when asked about opposition to same-sex marriage in parts of eastern Europe, where governments have also clashed with the EU executive over other civil rights.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.