June 17, 2009
Lesbian Couple Sue to Tie Knot
By Anna Malpas / The Moscow Times
Two lesbians who were refused the right to marry at a Moscow registry office in May pressed ahead with their fight this week, filing an official complaint with the Tverskoi District Court.
If it is rejected, the couple, Irina Fedotova-Fet and Irina Shepitko, plan to take their complaint to the Moscow City Court and then to the European Court of Human Rights with the backing of leading gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev.
"We intend to take the case to the highest level," Fedotova-Fet said by telephone Tuesday.
While their case goes through the courts, the couple plans to register a same-sex marriage in Canada in August. "We're not really having a huge fancy wedding, we're just traveling to register our marriage," Fedotova-Fet said.
The couple will then ask for the marriage to be recognized in Russia, and a "loophole" in Russian law makes this a real possibility, said Alexeyev, who is a lawyer.
An article in the Family Code says that foreign-registered marriages between Russians must be recognized. It lists four exceptions including bigamy and incest but not same gender, he said.
"It's sort of a loophole in the law that really allows us to fight for this," Alexeyev said.
He was less optimistic about the legal fight to allow single-sex weddings in Russia.
"I will be honest, we don't expect to win the case," Alexeyev said.
He cited the Family Code's definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and also a lack of precedents at the European Court of Human Rights.
Another gay activist, Igor Petrov, the chairman of the Russian LGBT Network, also called the legal action "unrealistic."
"The European Court of Human Rights has said several times that single-sex marriage is a matter for countries to decide internally," he said.
Petrov pooh-poohed the idea of a Canadian same-sex marriage being recognized in Russia.
"Unfortunately, it's not an option," he said, citing the Family Code's wording that a marriage can only be recognized "if it doesn't contravene Russian law."
"People have come to us with questions like that, asking about marriage in Canada. We tell them that in Russia, such a marriage is not recognized," Petrov said.
His organization advises gay couples to sign civil contracts on issues such as property ownership and medical consent, he said.
Petrov questioned the urgency of same-sex marriage in Russia given the general attitudes toward gay people. "It's not the most high-priority task, because the level of homophobia in society is too high," he said.