Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2016


This Article analyzes the word “spouse” in the European Union’s Family Migration Directives in detail, focusing on the treatment of married bi-national same-sex couples. Through these directives, the European Union exercises significant authority over family-based immigration and internal migration, expressly providing immigration rights to the “spouses” of E.U. citizens and legal residents. However, family law, including the familial status of “spouses” is governed by individual E.U. member states. While a growing number of member states authorize same-sex marriage, the majority still do not. The E.U., therefore, must determine how to treat migrating couples who are legal spouses in one member state, but not in another. This issue echoes the choice the U.S. faced in 1996 and again in 2013: should federal law determine spousal status based on the law of the jurisdiction where a marriage was celebrated or where the couple resides, or should it create its own independent federal definition? The two U.S. approaches, a federal definition and a place-of-celebration choice-oflaw rule, may help Europeans as they develop their own answer. This Article describes and rigorously applies the European Court of Justice’s five methods of directive interpretation (textual, systematic, historical, teleological, and comparative analyses) to the directives, concluding that the best interpretations of the directives result in an autonomous definition of “spouse” that includes same-sex spouses or in a member-state-of-celebration choice-of-law rule. This exercise provides some insight for European courts and scholars about the various paths the European Court of Justice may take to interpret the word “spouse” in the Family Migration Directives. It also provides an introduction to European family-based immigration and an example of the interpretation of directives generally, for judges, attorneys, scholars, and students from outside of the E.U.