VIENNA (REUTERS) - Same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in Austria from 2019, the country's supreme court ruled on Tuesday (Dec 5) and said a law to the contrary violated the principle of non-discrimination.
The move brings Austria into line with many other European nations including Germany, France, Britain and Spain.
It also comes at a time when stories of sexual harassment under the #MeToo hashtag have flooded social media, sparking a rethink of attitudes towards sexual discrimination.
"Today is a truly historic day," said lawyer Helmut Graupner, who represented the two female plaintiffs in court.
"Austria is the first European country to recognise marriage equality for same-gender couples as a fundamental human right. All the other European states with marriage equality introduced it (just) the political way," he said in a Facebook post.
Austria's constitutional court examined a 2009 law that allows registered partnerships for same-sex couples but prevents them from getting married. It acted at the request of two women who were rejected by two lower authorities.
The distinction between marriage and registered partnership can no longer be upheld without discriminating against same-sex couples, the court said in a statement.
"The resulting discriminatory effect is seen in the fact that... people living in same-sex partnerships have to disclose their sexual orientation even in situations, in which it is not and must not be relevant, and... are highly likely to be discriminated against," the court said in its ruling.
The conservative People's Party (OVP), who's leader Sebastian Kurz is expected to be sworn in as chancellor next month, said it will accept the ruling.
The far-right Freedom Party (FPO), Kurz's chosen government coalition partner criticised the ruling.
"Now there is equal treatment for something that's not equal," said Herbert Kickl, FPO General Secretary, in a statement. A marriage between women and men needs protection as only these partnerships can create children, he said.
The OVP and the FPO voted against same-sex marriage in Parliament a few months ago.
The court decision comes days after French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a plan to curb violence against women and weeks after Scotland apologised to gay men for historical convictions.
The Homosexual Initiative Vienna (HOSI) welcomed the court's decision.
"We are very happy," said HOSI chairman Christian Hoegl. "We want to use the opportunity for a renewed call for a fundamental reform of marriage."
Same-sex marriage is legal in 25 countries. Australia aims to pass a law to this effect early next month after 62 per cent of voters favoured marriage equality in a national survey.
In Germany, women and men are allowed to wed to a same sex partner since October. The first country to legalise same-sex marriage was the Netherlands in 2001.