The women defending LGBT rights in Romania

The European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that same-sex married couples have the same rights under EU freedom of residence legislation. The two Romanian lawyers behind the cases have been battling prejudice in Romania for 18 years.

Ana Maria Luca
Ana Maria Luca NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
The women defending LGBT rights in Romania - NewsMavens
Iustina Ionescu, 37, and Romanița Iordache, 42, with Adrian Coman. Photo: Accept Romania

Why this story matters:

Same-sex married couples have the same rights under EU freedom of residence legislation as heterosexual married couples, even if same-sex marriage is not allowed in the country, the European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday.

The case was submitted by a Romanian man, Adrian Coman, and his American spouse, Robert Hamilton, who were married in Belgium in 2010.

The Romanian authorities refused to issue the necessary documents to allow Hamilton to work and reside permanently in Romania with his spouse because he could not be classified in Romania as the spouse of an EU citizen.

Romania does not recognize same-sex marriage and the issue has polarized Romanian society in recent years. 

The Coalition for the Family, a union of religiously-motivated organisations, managed in 2015 to raise enough signatures to submit a bill to change the constitution so that marriage would be redefined as “the union between a man and a woman”.

The two Romanian women, both human rights lawyers, who represented Coman and Hamilton at the CJEU, gave a must-read interview to local magazine "Decat o Revista", in which they explain the challenges of defending the LGBT community for 18 years in one of Europe’s most conservative nations.

Details from the story:

  • Iustina Ionescu, 37,  and Romanița Iordache, 42, have been representing Adrian Coman and Clabourn Hamilton, a Romanian-US couple who got married in Belgium in 2010, in front of various courts in Romania and Europe since 2012, when Coman sued the state for not allowing his spouse a residency permit.
  • Ionescu and Iordache have been working on cases related to equal rights for the LGBT community in Romania since 2000. They work as volunteers for Accept Romania, an organization defending equal rights for the LGBT community.
  • The country has been ranked by ILGA Europe 25th out of 28 EU members  in terms of social climate, rights and equality of chances for sexual minorities.
  • The two women worked pro bono on hundreds of cases over the years, and some have gathered 500 pages of documents waiting for a court to issue a ruling. Many of the cases aim not just to win in court, but also to change legislation and prevent abuses and discrimination.
  • Cases like Hamilton and Coman’s seem easy compared to the abused LGBT people the two lawyers have represented over the years: victims of systematic rape in Romanian prisons or delayed police investigations in cases of aggression based on sexual orientation.
  • The two lawyers see the Coalition for the Family as a threat to human rights.
  • “If the Coalition for the Family didn’t exist, I am sure that at this moment I would be volunteering for a different organization, because ACCEPT would not need my help,” Iordache said.
  • She also said that if the organization reaches its goal and Romania’s constitution is modified to foster the conservative definition of the family, the fight would not be over. The two lawyers expect another round of trials in various courts.
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