There is no universal right to same-sex marriage, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last week.
The court said individual European states may decide for themselves whether to allow homosexual marriage or not.
The result is a blow to homosexual activists who hoped for a ruling in their favour that would force all member states to permit same-sex marriage.
The legal case was brought by an Austrian homosexual couple who were trying to overturn their nation’s traditional definition of marriage.
The same-sex couple asked the court to reinterpret Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the ‘right to marry’.
Article 12 states: “Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family”.
The court held that, looked at in isolation, the text could “be interpreted so as not to exclude the marriage between two men or two women”.
But it also added: “However, in contrast, all other substantive articles of the Convention grant rights and freedoms to ‘everyone’ or state that ‘no one’ is to be subjected to certain types of prohibited treatment. The choice of wording in article 12 must thus be regarded as deliberate.
“Moreover, regard must be had to the historical context in which the Convention was adopted. In the 1950s marriage was clearly understood in the traditional sense of being a union between partners of different sex.”
The court also observed that there is no European consensus on the issue of same-sex marriage.
The judges stated: “there is not yet a majority of States providing for legal recognition of same-sex couples.
“The area in question must therefore still be regarded as one of evolving rights with no established consensus”.
The court acknowledged that a same-sex couple has a right to a family life without interference from government, as set out in Article 8 of the Convention, but that still “did not impose an obligation on states to grant same-sex couples access to marriage”.
The United Kingdom Government intervened in the case on the side of Austria and against the same-sex couple.