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19th Feb 2019

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Estonia same-sex law breaks taboo in former Soviet states

  • Rainbow flag in Tallinn street (Photo: Janis Zakis)

Estonia on Thursday (9 October) became the first former Soviet republic to grant equal rights to same-sex couples.

MPs in the Riigikogu passed the bill by a narrow majority of 40 against 38 with 10 abstentions.

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The Cohabitation Act was backed by the Reform Party of 35-year old prime minister Tavi Roivas, the EU’s youngest leader.

It means that from 2016 gay couples will have the same rights as straight couples in terms of inheritance, access to partners in hospitals, or joint adoption of children.

Pro-LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-sexual, and intersex) activists welcomed the decision.

“This is a glimpse of light in the Baltic region”, Juris Lavrikovs, a spokesman for Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO, said.

“The Estonian vote is very important because Latvia looks to Estonia and Lithuania looks to Latvia as models of social development”.

Speaking to EUobserver from a gay rights congress in Riga the same day, he noted that Latvia has been moving in the opposite direction to Estonia.

Its MPs are digesting a new law to limit sex education, including LGBTI education, in schools. Its government also declined to send any officials to Ilga-Europe’s event.

Back in Estonia, Liisa Pakosta, an MP from the opposition Pro Patria and Res Publica Union party, voted against the Cohabitation Act.

She said it contains clauses which put the interests of parents above those of children in adoption applications or in parents’ right of access to children if a couple splits up.

“Children are not objects to be handed around in the interests of grown-ups”, she told this website.

She added that the creation of parallel registration regimes for straight couples and same-sex couples will cause a legal mess.

Pakosta denied that she or her party is homophobic. But she said homophobia does exist in the Riigikogu: “I don’t deny it. But it’s a personal issue and it doesn’t run along party lines”.

Meanwhile, the Estonian vote took place in a nasty atmosphere.

LGBTI activists say that a US evangelical group, the World Congress of Families, was funded by the Kremlin to organise an email and leafletting campaign which associated homosexuality with paedophilia.

“We’re seeing these forces becoming more and more organised”, Lavrikovs noted.

“The way the MPs [who backed the bill] argued in parliament was exemplary … they stuck to their principles instead of falling victim to black PR and manipulation”.

The World Congress of Families could not be reached for a comment on Thursday.

But Pakosta said pro-LGBTI campaigners also “overstepped the line”.

She said she got “hundreds” of emails and posts on her Facebook page, some of which attacked her for living in an unregistered couple with her male partner and children.

“Many emails from both sides went over the boundaries, not just of good taste, but of basic respect for people’s individual choice”.

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