The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled in favour of an Austrian lesbian couple who wished to jointly raise one partner’s biological son, but were unable to under their country’s adoption laws.

Under Austrian law an unmarried person in a heterosexual relationship can adopt and jointly raise their partner’s child. This right is not yet extended to same-sex couples, but the ECHR ruling will require this to be changed.

In 2005, the unnamed lesbian couple first brought a case in Austria challenging this law, but lost. They then brought the case to the ECHR in 2007.

The ECHR found that Austria’s laws were discriminatory and issued the statement: “No convincing reasons had been advanced to show that such difference in treatment was necessary for the protection of the family or for the protection of the interests of the child.”

Austria must now comply with the ruling, opening up greater adoption rights to other gay couples and setting the standard for case law in other European countries.

Martin K.I. Christensen, Co-Chair of the International Lebian and Gay Association-Europe’s Executive Board said: “This is a very significant and important victory for rainbow families in Europe. We hope that this judgment will pave the way towards the removal of the remaining legal barriers for these families in Europe.

“The lack of recognition and the inability for partners in same-sex families to establish legal links to their children is not only discriminatory and creates a number of legal uncertainties, but also has a profound and detrimental impact on the everyday lives of these families and the wellbeing of the children in those families. The principle of the best interests of the child needs to be upheld without exception.”

Germany has pulled ahead of Austria in the progression of its adoption right, and its highest court ruled today that one member of a civil partnership should be able to adopt their partner’s stepchild or adopted child as well as their biological children.