The Strasbourg court said that Italy violated the couple's right not to be discriminated against, and that the couple should be compensated with a €20,000 payout, in a statement on its website. The ruling will become definitive within three months, unless an appeal is launched.
The verdict has been a long time coming for Roberto Taddeucci and his New Zealand partner Douglas McCall, who have been together for 17 years and first lodged their legal complaint back in 2009.
The couple, in their 50s, lived in New Zealand as an unmarried couple until December 2003. Due to Taddeucci's health, they decided to move to his native Italy, and McCall was able to join him for the first year on a temporary student visa.
But when he applied for a residency permit on family grounds, his request was turned down on the basis that McCall was neither a spouse - because Italy did not recognize same-sex unions - nor a family member. For the past 13 years, the couple's battle has worked its way up Italian courts until finally it reached the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.
On Thursday, the court returned a verdict of six votes to one, confirming that the pair had been victims of "unjustified discrimination" due to their sexuality. The verdict will be final, as long as no further appeals are made, and the couple will be awarded €20,000 in compensation plus a further €18,900 to cover costs and expenses during their legal battle.
In its sentence, the court declared: “The situation of Mr Taddeucci and Mr McCall, a gay couple, could not be understood as comparable to that of an unmarried heterosexual couple. As they could not marry or, at the time, obtain any other form of legal recognition of their situation in Italy, they could not be classified as “spouses” under national law.
"The restrictive interpretation of the notion of family member constituted, for homosexual couples, an insuperable obstacle to the granting of a residence permit on family grounds," the court continued, concluding that the Italian State breached the couples' rights not to be subjected to discrimination based on sexual orientation in the enjoyment of rights to a family life.
Civil unions were finally legalized in Italy in May this year after a landmark vote. However, the bill followed a long and bitter debate and was significantly watered down, with the removal of a clause regarding stepchild adoption.