Recognition of same-sex unions in Estonia
Since 1 January 2016, Estonia has recognised same-sex unions by allowing same-sex couples to sign a cohabitation agreement. In addition, following a December 2016 court ruling, same-sex marriages performed abroad are recognised in Estonia.
In December 2005, the launch of a new family law bill by the Estonian Ministry of Justice, explicitly defining marriage to be a union of a man and a woman, initiated a public debate on the issue of recognition of same-sex unions. The public debate was called by the Ministry of Social Affairs, which expressed reservations about the draft law.
The public debate attracted a significant response from LGBT rights groups, who opposed the family law bill and urged the Government not to discriminate between same-sex and opposite-sex 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 LGBT rights issued a press release asking for the Government to draft a new partnership law to give same-sex couples equal rights with opposite-sex couples.
On the other hand, a number of conservative politicians claimed that Estonia was not yet ready for same-sex marriage, and that there was no need to create a separate law on same-sex unions since existing laws already implied the protection of some of these unions, despite not mentioning same-sex unions explicitly. Väino Linde, the chief of the Constitution Commission of the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament), stated that he was "glad to see the conservative views in the Parliament and in the Commission of Constitution".
As of 2005, the Social Democratic Party was the only political party to publicly affirm its support for same-sex marriage. The Centre Party and the Reform Party said that they would tolerate such a law. Various right-wing parties, particularly the Res Publica and Pro Patria Union, stated their opposition to same-sex marriage.
In July 2008, the Ministry of Justice announced that it was drafting a law on registered partnerships for same-sex couples. The law, 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 parties in Estonia's Parliament.
The Ministry of Justice studied proposals for the registration of unmarried couples, including same-sex couples. A comprehensive report was released in July 2009 examining three options: the recognition of unregistered cohabitation; the creation of a partnership registry; and the extension of marriage to same-sex couples. It left the decision over which model to implement 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 ruled that the non-recognition of same-sex relationships was contrary to the Constitution of Estonia. Thereafter partnership law again became an active political discussion in Estonia.
The Reform Party and the Social Democratic Party supported introducing a partnership law, against the opposition of conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (now united). The Centre Party supported a discussion on the issue. The bill was drafted in August 2012 by the Minister of Justice and was under consultation until October 1, 2012. In March 2014, a parliamentary group began to work on a draft bill to regulate the legal status of cohabiting couples. The bill was submitted to Parliament on April 17, 2014. On May 22, the bill was backed by the Government. On June 19, 2014, Parliament rejected a motion to kill the bill at its first reading, in a 32-45 vote. The second reading took place on October 8, where a motion to hold a referendum on the bill was defeated in a 35-42 vote and another motion to kill the bill was defeated in a 41-33 vote. The bill passed its final vote on October 9 in a 40-38 vote. It was signed by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves the same day and took effect on January 1, 2016.
|Party||Voted for||Voted against||Abstained||Absent|
|Estonian Reform Party|
|Estonian Centre Party|
|Pro Patria and Res Publica Union||-|
|Social Democratic Party||-|
As of 2017[update] some implementing acts required for the law to enter into force have yet to be passed, requiring the support of a majority of MPs. The conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL), which joined the government after the March 2015 elections, said that these acts should be passed in parliament rather than by the government, creating a dispute with the Reform Party and Social Democrats. On November 25, 2015, Parliament rejected a motion to kill the implementing bill at its first reading, in a 41-42 vote. On December 10, the chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee announced that the committee would not finish work on the bill and ask Parliament to begin the second reading before December 17, when Parliament adjourned until January 11. This meant that the Cohabitation Act would take effect without implementing measures, causing a number of legal loopholes and problems. Further readings were scheduled for the end of January 2016. In August 2016, a same-sex couple filed a lawsuit before the Administrative Court of Estonia for the right to enter into a cohabitation agreement. As of October 2016, the implementing measures have yet to be passed by Parliament.
In January 2017, the Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, Jaanus Karilaid (Centre Party), said that the implementing acts for the registered partnership law were unlikely to be adopted in the current term of Parliament, as passing these laws "would only result in new confrontations". At the same time, Karilaid suggested that Parliament did not have the numbers to repeal the underlying registered partnership law.
The first same-sex marriage was recognised by a court in December 2016. The couple, two men who had originally married in Sweden but now live in Estonia, had their marriage officially registered in late January 2017. Initially, a court in Harju County refused to register their marriage, but the couple appealed the decision. In December, the Tallinn Circuit Court ruled that all marriages performed in another country must be entered into the Estonian population register when a person takes up residence in Estonia or is granted Estonian citizenship.
In March 2017, Mart Helme, chairman of the Conservative People's Party, threatened the judges who made the ruling, saying he wanted their "heads to roll". Many criticised his comments, including President Kersti Kaljulaid, Chief Justice Priit Pikamäe and Speaker of Parliament Eiki Nestor.
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.
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). It also found that acceptance of homosexuality had increased from 34% in 2012 to 41% in 2017, with 52% against.
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