The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that it is discrimination to deny same-sex couples the right to live together – meaning migrants should be able to bring over a same-sex partner.

Under the principle of ‘family reunification’, the presence of one or more family members in a certain country enables the rest of the family to immigrate to that country as well.

For example, a young person may be entitled to bring over their parents in the country they are resident, and in most countries people are eligible to bring over a legal spouse.

However, the European Court ruled that the system should also be open to same-sex couples and families – who are frequently denied reunification in countries without legal recognition for gay relationships.

The case was brought by Ms Danka Pajić, a woman from Bosnia-Herzegovina, who was refused a Croatian residence permit after requesting to be reunited with her Croatian partner.

The women had been in a stable relationship for two years, but as neither country recognises same-sex relationships, they were initially rejected.

The ECHR ruled that the treatment constitutes a violation of Article 14 (the right to non-discrimination), in conjunction with Article 8 (the right to family life) – as all same-sex couples were excluded from the possibility of obtaining family reunification.

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith said: “We have received another important signal from the European Human Rights Court.

“Croatia’s decision to make it impossible for a partner in a same-sex relationship to obtain a residence permit for family reunification was discriminatory and such discrimination is illegal.

“This decision should be seen and treated as a test case. Everyone has a right to family life and to be with his or her loved ones. Immigration cases must not be decided based on someone’s sexual orientation. This was a clear case of discrimination and I’m delighted to see a unanimous decision from human rights judges that there had been a violation of Article 14, prohibition of discrimination, in conjunction with Article 8, right to respect for private and family life, of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“I also hope this case will illustrate the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights for us all, which is setting a high standard for the protection of human rights and fundamental rights in Europe and beyond.”

Daniele Viotti MEP, Co-President of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, said: “I strongly welcome this judgement by the European Court of Human Rights, which illustrates just one of the practical problems same-sex couples encounter due to institutional discrimination.

“Same-sex couples, just like opposite-sex couples, often like to live together and should have equal access to this right.

“The ruling shows the way forward for the EU, and beyond. Discriminatory provisions still prevent same-sex couples, often with children, to exercise their right to freedom of movement.

“I hope this ruling encourages the Commission to prepare legislation on mutual recognition of civil status documents, including registered partnerships.”

Intergroup Vice-President Malin Björk MEP added: “I am also glad the Court recognised that a same-sex couple in a stable partnership falls within the notion of ‘family life’.

“Everyone deserves the same right to family life, without discrimination. Rainbow families face many issues due to unjust discrimination. This ruling should encourage us all to address all problems that LGBTI people and fix them!”