In the best interest of the child, but not for all children
The Administrative Court of Appeal in Albania refused to legally recognize the parental responsibilities of both Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara as mothers of their twin daughters.
The love between Edlira Mara and Alba Ahmetaj, queer activists since 2011 and now both leaders of Pro LGBT, has often been a target of insults, hate speech, and disinformation spread on social media and amplified on the public, religious and the political sphere.
Nevertheless, they have decided to defy the hate with love for each other and for the community they serve. During the 8 years of their life together, an important moment has defined their family. It was the moment when they decided together to become parents.
First, they approached the private clinic of Dr. Orion Gliozheni in Tirane, but to their surprise, Dr. Gliozheni refused to serve them, a decision that was in blunt contradiction with the law, the code of ethics and the principle of non-discrimination.
They then asked for the assistance of a private hospital in Tirana. To their delight, the in vitro fertilization was successful on the first attempt. They had both decided for Edlira to be the biological mother and the one to carry the child because she had the highest probability of successful pregnancy.
On January 18th, 2021, they became mothers of two twin daughters, born healthy despite a difficult and challenging pregnancy. Alba remembers the occasion as a beautiful dream coming true, but because it was so perfect, they could not help themselves from experiencing a sense of anxiety, almost unable to grasp the idea that it was a real thing, not a dream. “I had this weird, unexplained fear”, Alba says, “that they were going to take away our babies, so I was feeling anxious all the time till we got them to the car and finally arrived home”. They had both experienced rejection and discrimination throughout their lives, but they had decided to prevent it from happening to their daughters.
When they shut the door of their apartment to leave the world behind and to finally start experiencing in the safety of their home the incredible life with their children, they suddenly became aware that their life in Albania was most likely not going to be a private one. All sorts of intertwined patriarchal and conservative forces at a legal, social, and institutional level would simply not allow them to exercise and enjoy their human right to family life. Similarly, they became aware of their historical task of fighting for justice for their daughters, for themselves, for the community and for Albania, too, which has never given up its European aspiration.
The Civil Registry in Tirana ordered the women to register the children with Edlira as their sole mother, arguing that the Albanian law does not legally recognize their family. They appealed this order to the Administrative Court of Tirana. In April 2022, this court ruled against them and upheld the order of the Civil Registry. Edlira, Alba and their daughters, represented by them, were quick to appeal this decision at the Administrative Court of Appeal. Judges Ardian Dvorani, Enkelejda Metaliaj and Sokol Ibi issued a three-judge unanimous decision against the family, upholding the decision of the lower court.
There are various legal, moral, ethical, developmental, social, political and human rights arguments in this case.
First, every human being has the right to enjoy family life. As children, we are born or adopted in a family of origin, but as adults, we have the right to live in a family of choice. While families have historically been economic units, expected to assist and take care of family members, they have also been – and we broadly expect them to be – spaces of nurture that enable children to have safe attachments with their parents or guardians. As such, families are important for both the physical and emotional development and well-being of children. The principle of the highest interest of the child requires an environment capable of meeting the developmental needs of the child and providing permanency, including legal permanency, for the child to build healthy relationships with their parents or guardians, to develop and maintain long-life relationships and to establish a sense of belonging and identity.
The principle of the highest interest of the child requires the legal recognition of the people who exercise the parental rights and responsibilities. It is through this recognition that the special protection of children – another important principle in Albanian law – is being achieved.
On the other hand, the aspiration of Albania to become an EU member state means that we have to act like Europeans and eventually become Europeans. What Alba and Edlira are asking for is nothing more than what European countries offer to their citizens.
Some of the countries that protect the rights of their citizens to live a family life, regardless of whether the family is created by straight or same-sex couples, are the following:
Austria, Croatia, Germany, Lichtenstein, Slovenia, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, the UK, Finland, Iceland, etc. Other western countries where the Albanian diaspora is quite active are the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
In other words, countries that strive to respect human rights do not discriminate based on gender, race, age, disability, political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other grounds for discrimination.
Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara have decided to litigate their case to the European Court of Human Rights, that in the past has ruled in favour of the right of people to have a family life either within the institution of marriage or through the legality of civil unions/partnerships.
While this might be a long marathon, it is a fight that matters because it is based on love and social justice.
Press release by ERA's member organisation Pro LGBT Albania.