Recognition of same-sex unions in Estonia
|Legal status of same-sex unions|
* Not yet in effect
Estonia will legally recognise same-sex unions by allowing individuals to sign a cohabitation agreement, effective 1 January 2016.
The launch of a new Family Law bill by the Estonian Ministry of Justice, which explicitly declared marriage to be an institution between a man and a woman, provoked a public debate on the issue of recognition of same-sex unions starting from December 2005. The public debate was called by the Ministry of Social Affairs, which said it had reservations about the draft law.
The public debate brought about a significant response from LGBT rights groups, which opposed the Family Law bill and urged the government to not discriminate between same-sex and heterosexual couples in marriage, stating that, "We call on the government to drop a clause in the draft law on the family, which does not allow the registration of same-sex marriages or partnerships". On January 4, 2006, five Estonian NGOs supporting gay rights issued a press release asking for the government to draft a new partnership law that would give same-sex couples equal rights with heterosexual couples.
On the other hand, various conservative politicians claimed that Estonia was not yet ready for same-sex marriage, and that there is no need to create a separate law on same-sex unions since existing laws already imply the protection of some of these unions (even though there is no explicit legal mention of same-sex unions). Väino Linde, the chief of the Constitution Commission of the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament), stated that he is "glad to see the conservative views in the Parliament and in the Commission of Constitution".
So far in the public debate, the Social Democratic Party has been the only political party to publicly affirm its support of same-sex marriage. The Centre Party and the Reform Party have said that they would tolerate such a law, but have not yet offered a statement of support. Various right-wing parties, particularly the now united Res Publica and the Pro Patria Union, have stated their opposition to same-sex marriage.
Same-sex registered partnership bill
In July 2008, the Ministry of Justice announced that it was drafting a law on registered partnership for same-sex couples. The law, which was initially expected to come into force in 2009, was intended to provide a number of rights for same-sex couples, such as inheritance and shared property ownership. The law had the support of most factions in Estonia's Parliament.
The Ministry of Justice studied proposals for the recognition of unmarried couples, including same-sex couples. A comprehensive report was released in July 2009 which looked at three options: the recognition of unregistered cohabitation, the creation of a partnership registry, and the opening up of marriage to same-sex couples. It left the decision of which model to implement up to the legislature and other "stakeholders". On July 1, 2010, a new family law was passed, defining marriage as between a man and a woman and declaring unions between members of the same sex "null and void". Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was quoted as saying, "I do not believe that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will soon accept same-sex marriage in the eyes of the law".
On May 25, 2011, Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder requested that the Ministry of Justice introduce a civil partnership law. He found that the non-recognition of same-sex relationships is contrary to the constitution of Estonia. Thereafter partnership law again became an active political subject in Estonia.
The Reform Party and the Social democratic Party support introducing a partnership law, conservative the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica is still against it. The Centre Party supports its discussion. The bill was drafted in August 2012 by the Minister of Justice and was under consultation until 1 October 2012. In March 2014, parliamentary group began to work on a draft bill to regulate legal status of cohabiting couples. The bill was submitted to the parliament on 17 April 2014. On 22 May, the bill was backed by the government. On 19 June 2014, the parliament rejected the motion to kill the bill at the first reading, in a 32-45 vote. 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. The final vote took place on 9 October, passing the law in a 40-38 vote. It was signed by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves the same day and will take effect on 1 January 2016.
Some implementing acts have yet to be passed in order for the law to enter into force in 2016. These require 51 of 101 MPs to be in favour. Following the March 2015 elections, the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) joined the government. The party is of the opinion that these acts have to be worked out in parliament rather than by the government, causing disagreement with the Reform Party and Social Democrats. On 25 November 2015, the parliament rejected the motion to kill the implementing bill at the first reading, in a 41-42 vote.
A poll conducted in June 2009 showed that 32% of Estonians believed 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.
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.
The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 31% of Estonians thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 58% were against.
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