On July 13, 2021, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) unanimously found a violation of the Article 8 right to respect for private and family life by Russia and its refusal to permit a same-sex couple from having their relationship formally acknowledged. The case of Fedotova v. Russia concerned three same-sex couples in Russia whose notices of intent to marry were rejected by local registry offices. The three couples unsuccessfully challenged the refusals in domestic courts and then brought the case to the ECtHR alleging violations of Article 8 as well as Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). According to a press release from the Court, the Chamber began by considering the Article 8 claim and stated that Article 8 does not explicitly require Russia to recognize same-sex unions. However, according to the Court, Article 8 "implies the need for striking a fair balance between the competing interests of same-sex couples and of the community as a whole" (para. 49). With that in mind, the Court noted that without legal recognition of same-sex unions, "same-sex couples are prevented from accessing housing or financing programmes and from visiting their partners in hospital . . . they are deprived of guarantees in the criminal proceedings . . . and rights to inherit the property of the deceased partner" creating "a conflict between the social reality of the applicants who live in committed relationships based on mutual affection, and the law, which fails to protect the most regular of “needs” arising in the context of a same-sex couple" (para. 51). In response to Russia's argument that the majority of the Russian population disapproves of same-sex relationships, the Court acknowledged that although "popular sentiment may play a role in the Court’s assessment when it comes to the justification on the grounds of social morals . . . there is a significant difference between giving way to popular support in favour of extending the scope of the Convention guarantees and a situation where that support is relied on in order to deny access of a significant part of [the] population to [the] fundamental right to respect for private and family life" (para. 52). Thus, the Court concluded that Russia failed to demonstrate the existence of any community interest that might prevail over the private interests of the applicants. Although Russia has a margin of appreciation with respect to its choice of the most appropriate form of registration of same-sex unions, because in this instance the choice was to offer no domestic in this regard, the Court found a violation of Article 8. Because it determined a violation based on Article 8, the Court did not consider the applicants' Article 14 argument. The Court denied the applicants' claim of 50,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages.
Whether and to what extent Russia will implement this judgment remains to be seen, especially in view of 2020 amendments to the Russian Constitution that: (1) preserve the concept of "traditional marriage" (see para. 23 of the judgment discussing this) and (2) block the application of international treaties and judgments that are contrary to Russian constitutional principles.