European nations do not have to allow same-sex marriage, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled, though gay rights groups claimed a partial victory Friday because the court acknowledged growing agreement that their relationships should be recognized in law.
Seven judges at the European court ruled unanimously that two Austrian men denied permission to wed were not covered by the guarantee of the right to marry enshrined in Europe's human rights convention.
The judges acknowledged "an emerging European consensus" that same-sex couples should have legal recognition but said individual states may still decide what form it should take because marriage had "deep-rooted social and cultural connotations which may differ largely from one society to another."
The European Union's 27 member states range from socially liberal countries like Sweden and the Netherlands to religious, conservative nations such as Poland.
Six EU states — Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Norway and Spain — have legalized gay marriage. About a dozen others, including Britain, Germany, France and — since January — Austria, have legal partnerships, which carry much the same status as marriage.
Horst Schalk and Johann Kopf sought a marriage permit in Vienna in 2002, but were turned down because Austrian law only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman. They took their case to the courts in a battle that made its way through the Austrian system before being referred to the European court in Strasbourg, France.