The Ministry of Justice’s response on same-sex marriage

How would the Armenian state authorities respond, if same-sex couples express a wish to get married? Recently LGBTnews published an extensive article, showing that the Armenian Constitution does not prohibit its citizens from entering into same-sex marriages.

LGBTnews’s correspondent A. Manukyan, who is a lesbian and wishes to get married to her partner, sent an inquiry to Minister of Justice Arpine Hovhannisyan.

“What procedure should I, A.M. Manukyan follow as a citizen of the R.A., in order to register a same-sex marriage and/or a union with my partner who is also a R.A. citizen?”

In response to this inquiry, Head of the Civil Registry Agency of Ministry of Justice Argam Stepanyan wrote:

“Article 35 of the Armenian Constitution states that ‘Man and woman of marriageable age have the right to marry and form a family according to their free will.’ The first section of Article 10 of the Family Code states that ‘marriage conclusion requires the mutual and voluntary consent of a man and a woman, both of whom must be of marriageable age.’”

After receiving this response, Manukyan sent a second inquiry to the Ministry of Justice, again addressing Minister Arpine Hovhannisyan.

“I sent an inquiry to the Ministry of Justice, where I was addressing you specifically, to inform me about the procedures that I, a citizen of the R.A. should follow, in order to register a same-sex marriage and/or a union with my citizen partner in the Republic of Armenia. As a response to my inquiry, I received a letter on behalf of Head of the Civil Registry Agency Argam Stepanyan, which only included excerpts from Article 35 of the Constitution and first section of Article 10 of the Family Code.

Mr. Stepanyan’s letter does not provide an answer to my question regarding the procedures my partner and I should follow in order to register a same-sex marriage and/or a union in the Republic of Armenia.

Please answer the following questions:

Can same-sex couples register a marriage and/or a union in the Republic of Armenia? If yes, what is the procedure and which government bodies should one refer to? If no, what are the provisions in the Constitution that prohibit same-sex marriages in the Republic of Armenia?”

The second response was again sent on behalf of Argam Stepanyan. 

“In order to clarify your inquiries addressed to the Minister of Justice, you are invited to Civil Registry Agency. Please come with a document confirming your identity,” stated Argam Stepanyan’s letter.

On the appointed day Manukyan met with Argam Stepanyan. A staff member of the Civil Registry Agency Albert Virabyan and another employee were also present at the meeting. They were constantly interrupting Stepanyan’s and Manukyan’s conversation. Stepanyan’s first question to Manukyan was about her address of residency. It is important to note that prior to the meeting, Stepanyan had collected information on Manukyan’s home address, as well as information on the owner of the apartment where she resides. The transcript of the recorded conversation is provided below.

– Is your home address really the address from where your letters are sent to us?

– Currently I reside at that address.

– Are you renting?

– No, it is my relative’s apartment who is not residing in Armenia.

– Which part of our response does not satisfy you?

 – First, I would like to ask the individuals who entered the room to introduce themselves, so I’m aware who is taking part in our conversation.

– We will introduce them, if that’s what you want. Alik Virabyan and (the other name is inaudible in the recording—ed.); they are staff members. We want to understand what your concern is. We thought our response would satisfy you.

– And how is your response going to satisfy me?

– You want to register a marriage, and we are saying that it is not possible.

– On what grounds? As far as I know, there is no law prohibiting same-sex marriages, and what is not forbidden is permissible. Am I wrong?

– The law clearly states—a man and a woman…What else do you want?

– Is there a law that prohibits same-sex marriages?

– Are you saying that if the law doesn’t prohibit a marriage between two men or two women, then it is allowed?

– I’m asking you.

– If we are not authorized to perform an act, then we cannot. Officials and state authorities can only perform authorized acts. We are not authorized by law.

– Would you put your explanation in writing?

– If I perform an act, it is within the law. I have to be authorized to do it. For example, I cannot register the same marriage four times, I cannot register a marriage between minors, and I cannot register a marriage for a person who is already married. Why? Because I am not authorized to do so.

– Very well. Please provide that in writing.

– As far as I understand, you need everything in writing. This is what we were trying to understand—what your concern is and what is not clear to you. Now we understand. You are saying that if nothing prohibits us to register same-sex marriages, then why are we not registering? My response is that I’m not authorized. We will prepare our written response in such a way that will satisfy you.

On behalf of Argam Stepanyan a written response was sent to Manukyan a few days later. The letter stated, “As a response to the question you raised during our meeting at the Civil Registry Agency regarding the permissibility of registering same-sex marriages in the absence of legislation that prohibits it, I would like to inform you, that according to section 2 of Article 5 of the Constitution, ‘state and local self-government bodies and public officials are competent to perform only such acts for which they are authorized by Constitution or laws.’ Therefore, Civil Registry Agency cannot perform an act, including registering same-sex marriages, for which it is not authorized.”

The explanation provided by the Head of the Civil Registry Agency confirms the assertion made in the article that was published in our website earlier, which stated that there is a legislative gap in LGBTI people’s right to marry, and not a restriction.