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PARIS (Reuters) - European law does not require countries to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, even if some states have already done so, the continent's top human rights court has ruled.
The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected an appeal by two Austrian men who said their country's refusal to allow same-sex marriage violated the right to marry and prohibition of discrimination in European rights law.
The ECHR is part of the Council of Europe, which promotes democracy and the rule of law among its 47 member states. Its rulings are binding on Council members since they have signed the European Convention on Human Rights.
"The court observed that, among Council of Europe member states, there is no consensus regarding same-sex marriage," the ECHR said in a statement on Thursday. Only 7 of the Council's 47 members have approved same-sex marriage.
"The court underlined that national authorities were best placed to assess and respond to the needs of society in this field, given that marriage had deep-rooted social and cultural connotations differing largely from one society to another."
In its ruling, the court said same-sex couples could not be denied marriage on the grounds they could not naturally procreate but could claim a right to a family life like heterosexual couples.
This still "did not impose an obligation on states to grant same-sex couples access to marriage," it said.
Editing by Myra MacDonald