Lithuania's decision to apply the so-called enhanced cooperation rules should be approved by the European Commission (EC) later on Wednesday.
Lithuania took the step after inclusion of the clause which stipulates that the actions envisaged in the procedure may be waived, if they run counter to the constitutional system or main provisions of the law in the country concerned, Justice Vice-Minister Tomas Vaitkevičius said.
"A court may decide not to hear divorce cases of, in this case, homosexual individuals. This would be based on the provision in the Civil Code that such marriages are not legitimate," the vice-minister told BNS.
Lithuania has become the 15th EU nation to join the regulation.
The EC says that the regulation ensures legal certainty and, in case of termination of marriage, does not allow competing for who would go to court first or choose which country's legal regulation is more favorable.
“People fall in love across borders, whatever their nationality, but member-states' courts have different ways of deciding which country's law applies to divorces. International couples need to be certain of the rules that apply in their situation – which is what the regulation provides for. The new rules will benefit hundreds of thousands of international couples and it is encouraging to see that more and more member-states are recognizing this," said EU Vice-President Viviane Reding, the justice commissioner.
A few years ago, the council regulation was approved by 14 countries, namely, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain. The regulation is due to take effect in June.
The EC said the regulation on the applicable law for divorce and separation is aimed at protecting the weaker spouse. International spouses have an option to agree in advance on the country the law of which will be applied for their divorce or separation in the future.
For the first time in EU history, member-states referred to the enhanced cooperation procedure to create the rules. The procedure allows a group of at least nine member-states to apply measures in cases when all 27 member-states fail to agree. Other countries may join the cooperation at any time.
The EC said Lithuania was the first country to announce its willingness to join the enhanced cooperation scheme.
To allow same-sex marriages, Lithuania would have to amend its Constitution. The country's main law now states that “marriage shall be concluded upon the free mutual consent of a man and a woman."
Of all the major political parties in Lithuania, only the Liberal Movement has stated support for same-sex partnership. So far, Lithuania has not legally defined the institute of partnership either for same-sex or opposite-sex couples.
According to a survey carried out by RAIT pollster for BNS last year, 70 percent of Lithuanian residents support partnership between a man and a woman, yet merely 4 percent support same-sex partnership.
In Europe, same-sex marriage is legal in eight countries, namely, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. Partnership between individuals of the same sex is allowed in 13 more countries.