BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — They met in Central Park, fell in love, and now are happily married. But there's a catch. The same-sex marriage of Adrian Coman and Claibourn Robert Hamilton is not recognized in Coman's native Romania.
They have petitioned Romania's Constitutional Court to recognize them as married, which would be a landmark— and surprising— ruling. Commentators predict the court will reject their case on Tuesday.
The couple's lawyer, Iustina Ionescu, said Monday that she hoped the court would "put an end to homophobic sentiments and apply the constitution equally." She said the ruling had implications for non-traditional families such as cohabiting couples and one-parent families. "Not allowing them to be a family goes against the right to a family."
Romania's constitution defines marriage as a union between "partners," but a church-backed group is campaigning for a referendum to change that to "a man and a woman."
The case comes as European Union member Romania tries to balance European norms and the demands of the conservative and influential Romanian Orthodox Church.
Cristian Parvulescu, dean of the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration, predicted Monday that "the court will make a political rather than a judicial ruling." Journalist and commentator Dan Turturica says it would be "revolutionary" for the court to recognize the union.
Yet U.S. graphic designer Hamilton, 44, has told The Associated Press that his experience in Romania had been "nothing less than compassion, friendliness and warmth and I'm grateful for that."
The pair appeared in Romanian media during their visit in July and their upbeat, eloquent and relaxed manner generally attracted positive attention. One restaurant owner recognized them, gave them a bottle of champagne on the house and wished them success.
Success may elude them yet. On July 20, the Constitutional Court ruled that a church-backed group could seek to amend the constitution to limit marriage to male-female couples. If parliament agrees in a vote that may come later this year, there would be a referendum.
Coman, 45, and San Antonio native Hamilton are used to battles.
They married in Belgium in 2010, eight years after meeting in New York, and Coman went to Romania's consulate in Brussels hoping to get the marriage legally recognized. He remembers consular staff huddled in discussion as they pored over the marriage certificate, before telling him the marriage would not be recognized.
"It was not my home that day," he told AP in a July interview in Bucharest. "I was very sad and humiliated."
The legal fight for recognition in Romania began in 2012. As things stand, they could not easily move to the country. Hamilton can get only a 90-day visa to be in Romania and would have difficulty getting permission to work.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 2001 and attitudes to have relaxed, but aversion to same-sex relationships remains.
The New York-based couple refrains from holding hands in Romania, a society in which public expression of affection is common.
"I am afraid it would attract hostility perhaps," said Coman. "An act of love and affection (can be seen) as defiance." In private, they are very demonstrative.
Coman's mother, Camelia Coman, a draftswoman and newspaper copy editor, is supportive. She recalls how her son, then 24, told her he wanted to tell her something, which she intuitively guessed. They both burst into tears. Coman's father also supports him.
"I want mothers to know that it is enough to love and know your child," she said. "Society has a mentality that is close to medieval at times."