Austria’s gay rights record has taken a turn for the worse with reports that the government is to make residency more difficult for bi-national same-sex couples.

In a directive to the City of Vienna the Ministry of Interior says that a “next of kin” residence permit will only be granted if the Austrian partner and his or her foreign partner lived in a joint household in the country of origin of their partner.

“The effect of this is, that a joint life can be realised in Austria only in those cases where an Austrian emigrates, for a long time lives with a foreign partner in the country of emigration and then brings his partner when returning to Austria,” Rechtskomitee LAMBDA (RKL), Austria’s LGBT civil rights organisation, said in a statement.

“Only a very small portion of bi-national same-sex couples could fulfil these criteria.

“Opposite-sex couples have the opportunity to marry and, if they are not welfare-cases, immediately get a residence permit and full access to the labour market.

“Same-sex couples don’t have this opportunity. Austria still forbids them to marry.”

The group described the move as an act of aggression.

RKL claims that the Minister of Interior, Günther Platter, has consistently opposed a registered partnership for same-sex couples which would be an equivalent to marriage.

“The Ministry’s new directive violates human rights,” said RKL.

“The European Court of Human Rights established a right to a residence permit if it cannot be reasonably expected from the partners that they live their partnership anywhere else, which is the case for most bi-national same-sex couples.”

When Austria’s Justice Minister Maria Berger presented a draft registered partnership bill, the country’s LGBT-organisations called a joint press conference in Vienna and branded the proposals “the worst partnership law in the world.”

The law would regulate obligatory civil and criminal law issues only such as tax law, pension insurance, health insurance, employment, immigration and citizenship.

However it would ignore the social rights of married couples such as maintenance, assistance, joint residency and division of property.

The Minister of Justice insists that the other areas will follow later; and if not, then same-sex couples could go to the courts and sue for equality.

The LGBT groups said:

“If this bill is not improved upon by creating equality in all areas of the law the status quo would be a better situation.

“Today same-sex couples do not have the rights that married couples do enjoy.”