LGBT rights in Estonia

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LGBT rights in Estonia
Location of  Estonia  (dark green)

– in Europe  (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (light green)  –  [Legend]

Same-sex sexual activity legal? Decriminalized since 1992, age of consent equalized since 2001
Gender identity/expression Legal: Gender change is recognized by the law
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation and gender identity protections. (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of
Cohabitation Agreement since 1 January 2016 Same-sex marriages performed abroad recognised since 2016
Adoption Step-child adoption only.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Estonia may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Estonia. Since 1 January 2016, same-sex couples have recognition called a cohabitation agreement that gives the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples (with the exemption of marriage and Joint adoption). It is considered, by most, to be the most liberal former-Soviet country when it comes to gay rights.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity, which was illegal in the Soviet Union, was legalised in Estonia in 1992. The age of consent is 14 years and was equalized for both homosexual and heterosexual sex in 2001.[1]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

In March 2014, parliamentary group began to work on a draft bill to regulate legal status of cohabiting couples.[2] The bill was submitted to the parliament on 17 April 2014. On 22 May, the bill was backed by the government.[3] On 19 June 2014, the parliament rejected the motion to kill the bill at the first reading, in a 32-45 vote.[4] The second reading took place on 8 October where a motion to place the bill on a referendum was defeated on a 35-42 vote and another motion to kill the bill was defeated on a 41-33 vote against scrapping the law.[5] The final vote took place on 9 October, passing the law in a 40-38 vote.[6] It was signed by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves that same day and took effect on 1 January 2016.[7]

Further legislation is needed for smooth implementation by 1 January 2016. On 26 November 2015, Parliament approved the first implementing acts on a vote of 42-41 with several abstentions.[8] The next reading of the acts is scheduled for the end of January 2016. 51 votes are required in the third and final reading to successfully implement the law.[9]

Adoption and family law[edit]

Single gay or lesbian persons may petition to adopt and same-sex couples are allowed to foster. Same-sex couples can't adopt jointly because the law states that only a couple which are married can do so, and same-sex marriages are currently not recognized in Estonia. However, due to the Cohabitation Agreement Act, couples are allowed to perform step-adoption. It has been put in doubt that it is currently possible to fulfill the prescribed conditions due to the fact that implementing provisions for the Cohabitation Agreement Act have not yet been adopted; however, in at least one case, a lesbian couple has effectibly been able to obtain a stepchild adoption for their children.[10] Lesbians can use IVF.

Discrimination protections[edit]

As an obligation for acceptance into the European Union, Estonia transposed an EU directive into its own laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment from 1 May 2004. The Law on Equal Treatment, which entered into force on 1 January 2009, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in areas other than employment, such as health care, social security, education and the provision of goods and services.[11][12]

Since 2006, the Penal Code prohibits public incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation.[11]

Living conditions[edit]

Homosexuality was illegal in the USSR, including Estonia, although the situation seemed to be more liberal in Estonia than in most other parts of the former Soviet Union. In the mid-1980s, there was an unofficial gay bar in Tallinn. There was also at least one cruising area in both Tallinn and Tartu.[13] But the gay scenes are unclear outside Tallinn and Tartu. The first conference dedicated to sexual minorities took place in Tallinn in 1990. At the same time, the Estonian Lesbian Society (Eesti Lesbiliit) was founded.[14]

Pride parades have been organised since 2004 in Tallinn.

In June 2006, Dutch Ambassador to Estonia Hans Glaubitz requested he be transferred to the Dutch consulate in Montreal, Canada after ongoing homophobic and racial verbal abuse being hurled against his partner, an Afro-Cuban dancer named Raúl García Lao, by citizens in the capital of Tallinn. A released statement by the Estonian authorities stated that they "regretted the incidents very much".[15]

From 6 June to 12 June 2011, Estonia hosted Baltic Pride, a festival to promote greater support and awareness for LGBT people. Key speakers at the event included Riho Rahuoja, the Deputy Secretary General for Social Policy at the Ministry of Social Affairs; Christian Veske, the Chief Specialist in the Ministry's Gender Equality Department; Kari Käsper, Project Manager of the "Diversity Enriches" campaign from the Estonian Human Rights Centre; Hanna Kannelmäe from the Estonian Gay Youth NGO, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia Michael C. Polt, British Ambassador to Estonia Peter Carter and British photographer Clare B. Dimyon, who exhibited "Proud of our Identity" at Tallinn's Solaris Centre on 31 March. "Proud of our Identity" comprises photographs of and by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people taken at various Pride events throughout Europe, including photographs of Estonian LGBT people.[16]

Public opinion[edit]

A Eurobarometer survey published on December 2006 showed that 21% of Estonians surveyed support same-sex marriage and 14% recognise same-sex couple's right to adopt (EU-wide average 44% and 33%).[17]

A poll conducted in June 2009 showed that 32% of Estonians believe that same-sex couples should have the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples. Support was 40% among young people, but only 6% among older people.[18] And according to a survey conducted in 2000, 50% of surveyed men and 63% of women agreed with the statement “Homosexuality among adults is a private affair of the people concerned with which officials of the law should in no way interfere"; 29% of men and 25% of women found it hard to say what their position was.[13]

From a Eurobarometer survey published in 2008, only 13 percent of Estonians profess to have homosexual friends or acquaintances, compared to a 34 percent average in the EU. However, Estonians ranked higher than the European average in willingness to grant equal opportunities to sexual minorities.[19]

A poll conducted in September 2012 found that 34% of Estonians supported same-sex marriage and 46% supported registered partnerships. The poll found an ethnic divide: while 51% of ethnic Estonians supported registered partnerships, only 35% of ethnic Russians were of the same view.[20]

A poll conducted from 28 March 2017 to 10 April 2017 found that while support for same-sex registered partnership legislation was unchanged in three years (45% vs 46%), support for same-sex marriages had increased to 39% with 52% against (compared to 60% against in 2012 and 64% against in 2014).[21][22][23] It also found that acceptance of homosexuality had increased from 34% in 2012 to 41% in 2017, with 52% against.[24]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1992)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2001)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only Yes (Since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2009)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2008)
Same-sex marriage No / Yes (Same-sex marriages performed abroad recognised since 2016)
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Since 2016)
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2016)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No / Yes (Couples where both partners are infertile may also adopt non-biological children)
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military Yes
Right to change legal gender Yes
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Illegal for heterosexual couples also)
Conversion therapy banned for minors No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ RKLambda Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Parliamentary Working Group to Codify Cohabitation
  3. ^ Government Approves Cohabitation Bill
  4. ^ Gender-Neutral Civil Union Bill Survives Early Morning Vote
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Parliament Passes Cohabitation Act
  7. ^ (in Estonian) Riigikogu võttis vastu kooseluseaduse
  8. ^ Cohabitation Act implementing acts pass first reading by single vote
  9. ^ Kooseluseaduse rakendusaktid tulevad riigikogus teisele lugemisele jaanuari lõpus
  10. ^ (in Estonian) "Eestis lapsendas esimene samasooline paar kaks last". ERR. March 29, 2016. Retrieved March 25, 2017. 
  11. ^ a b European Network of Legal Experts in the Non-Discrimination Field, Executive Summary: Estonia Country Report 2010
  12. ^ Report on Homophobia Archived 10 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Fundamental Rights Agency, p.28
  13. ^ a b [2]
  14. ^
  15. ^ Ambassador quits Estonia over gay abuse by Nick Paton Walsh. 8 June 2006
  16. ^ UK in Estonia: British Embassy presents an exhibition of photos by Clare B Dimyon, MBE: PRIDE Solidarity - “Proud of our Identity”, 31 March - 14 April, 2011
  17. ^ angus-reid
  18. ^ Homopaaride rights advocates, 32% of the population
  19. ^ [3]
  20. ^ [4]
  21. ^ "Avaliku arvamuse uuring LGBT teemadel (2017)" (PDF) (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center. 
  22. ^ "Avaliku arvamuse uuring LGBT teemadel (2014)" (PDF) (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center. 
  23. ^ "Avaliku arvamuse uuring LGBT teemadel (2012)" (PDF) (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center. 
  24. ^ "Eesti elanike hoiakud LGBT teemadel" (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center.