Recognition of same-sex unions in Estonia

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Legal status of same-sex unions
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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.[1]


Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe
  Foreign marriages recognized
  Other type of partnership
  Unregistered cohabitation
  Constitution limits marriage to opposite-sex couples

Includes laws that have not yet gone into effect.

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.[2]

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".[3]

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.[3]

Cohabitation agreement[edit]

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.[4][5]

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".[6][7] 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".[8]

On May 25, 2011, Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder requested that the Ministry of Justice introduce a civil partnership law.[9] 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.[10] The bill was drafted in August 2012 by the Minister of Justice and was under consultation until October 1, 2012.[11][12][13] In March 2014, a parliamentary group began to work on a draft bill to regulate the legal status of cohabiting couples.[14] The bill was submitted to Parliament on April 17, 2014.[15][16][17][18] On May 22, the bill was backed by the Government.[19] On June 19, 2014, Parliament rejected a motion to kill the bill at its first reading, in a 32-45 vote.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22][23]

October 9, 2014 vote in the Estonian Parliament (Riigikogu)
Party Voted for Voted against Abstained Absent
Estonian Reform Party     
Estonian Centre Party     
Pro Patria and Res Publica Union      -
Social Democratic Party      -
Total 40 38 10 13

As of 2017 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.[24] On November 25, 2015, Parliament rejected a motion to kill the implementing bill at its first reading, in a 41-42 vote.[25] 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.[26][27] Further readings were scheduled for the end of January 2016.[28] 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.[29] As of October 2016, the implementing measures have yet to be passed by Parliament.[30]

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.[31]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

The first same-sex marriage was recognised by a court in December 2016.[32] The couple, two men who had originally married in Sweden but now live in Estonia, had their marriage officially registered in late January 2017.[1][33] 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.[33]

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.[34]

Public opinion[edit]

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.[35]

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.[36]

The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 31% of Estonians thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 58% were against.[37]

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).[38][39][40] It also found that acceptance of homosexuality had increased from 34% in 2012 to 41% in 2017, with 52% against.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Gay couple win right to be married in Estonia". Gay Star News. 30 January 2017. 
  2. ^ "Estonian gays want right to wed". Swaf News. January 3, 2006. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b "First Test of Tolerance and Common European Values in Estonia for Gays". UK Gay News. January 10, 2005. Retrieved September 30, 2007. 
  4. ^ Estonia debates same-sex partnerships
  5. ^ GLT World News Briefs
  6. ^ Estonia Might Allow Gay Marriages
  7. ^ Kas homoabielud saavad tõesti rohelise tule?
  8. ^ Gay Life in Estonia: Gay marriage
  9. ^ "Justice Chancellor Calls for Same-Sex Partnership Law". 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  10. ^ "Social Dems, Reform Party Reach Common Ground on Civil Partnerships". 2011-10-03. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  11. ^ Ministry Floats Idea of Same-Sex Partnership Without Adoption
  12. ^ New law in Estonia will provide more protection to unmarried couples
  14. ^ Parliamentary Working Group to Codify Cohabitation
  15. ^ Gender-Neutral Cohabitation Bill Submitted to Parliament
  16. ^ (in Estonian) Kooseluseadus 650 SE
  17. ^ (in Estonian) Seletuskiri kooseluseaduse eelnõu juurde
  18. ^ (in Estonian) Samasooliste kooselu registreerimist võimaldav eelnõu sai valmis
  19. ^ Government Approves Cohabitation Bill
  20. ^ Gender-Neutral Civil Union Bill Survives Early Morning Vote
  21. ^ Cohabitation Bill Heads to Final Vote
  22. ^ Parliament Passes Cohabitation Act; President Proclaims It
  23. ^ (in Estonian) Riigikogu võttis vastu kooseluseaduse
  24. ^ "Coalition already in disagreement over Cohabitation Act". 10 April 2015. 
  25. ^ Cohabitation Act implementing acts pass first reading by single vote
  26. ^ Cohabitation Act to enter force without implementing acts
  27. ^ (in Estonian) Kooseluseaduse rakendusaktid jäävad sel aastal vastu võtmata
  28. ^ Kooseluseaduse rakendusaktid tulevad riigikogus teisele lugemisele jaanuari lõpus
  29. ^ (in Estonian) Geiaktivist läheb kooseluseaduse tõttu riigiga kohtusse
  30. ^ Romanian President Under Fire for Advocating Tolerance "Even a more Western-oriented country, Estonia, has been delaying the implementation of gay civil partnerships even if they have been enshrined in law."
  31. ^ Karilaid: This Estonian parliament won't adopt implementing act of civil partnership law
  32. ^ "GAY.RU - В Эстонии однополая пара через суд добилась признания своего брака, заключенного в Швеции". Retrieved 2017-01-25. 
  33. ^ a b Court orders entry of same-sex marriage into Estonian register
  34. ^ Estonia: Parliament speaker condemns MP's verbal attack against judges
  35. ^ Homopaaride rights advocates, 32% of the population
  36. ^ Merike Teder (2012-09-13). "Uuring: eestlased pole samasooliste kooselu registreerimise vastu - Eesti uudised". Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  37. ^ Special Eurobarometer 437
  38. ^ "Avaliku arvamuse uuring LGBT teemadel (2017)" (PDF) (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center. 
  39. ^ "Avaliku arvamuse uuring LGBT teemadel (2014)" (PDF) (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center. 
  40. ^ "Avaliku arvamuse uuring LGBT teemadel (2012)" (PDF) (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center. 
  41. ^ "Eesti elanike hoiakud LGBT teemadel" (in Estonian). Estonian Human Rights Center. 

External links[edit]