The new law shows how Estonia, considered the most Western-oriented of the former Soviet states, and its former ruler are heading in opposite directions when it comes to attitudes toward gays
TALLINN, Estonia | BR – The Estonian parliament voted by a slim margin on Thursday in favour of introducing civil marriages for same-sex couples as of 2016.
The vote was preceded by massive protest against the new law.
The bill, passed by 40 votes to 38 with 23 MPs abstaining or absent, gives gay partners similar rights to married couples.
The vote followed months of fierce campaigning by both gay-rights advocates and socially conservative groups and was lauded by human rights groups for setting a precedent with wider significance for other former Soviet states, where gay-rights legislation hasn’t come as far.
“Passing this law sends a very important message—Estonia is a country that respects human rights,” Kari Kaesper, executive director at the Estonian Human Rights Center, said. “Especially in light of what is happening in Russia, how human rights are treated there…It is clear that Estonia is on its way to overcome the dead hand of Soviet past.”
Two-thirds of Estonians oppose the new law, a recent opinion poll suggested.
The bill has been proposed after 2011 census data was released showing that only 34.5% of Estonians over the age of 15 were living in a married relationship, while 15.6 percent were living in committed but unformalized relationships.
Tolerance can’t be forced on a society, the Christian journalist Toivo Tänavsuu writes in the liberal weekly paper Eesti Ekspress:
“Some people have been saying that the law ‘won’t deprive anyone of anything’. I believe it has already deprived us of a great deal: the solidarity of the Estonian population, and for many also of their faith in democracy and honesty in politics. Not to mention how this partnership law has diverted popular attention from the important problems in Estonian society. … Are we being forced to become a liberal Western society by totalitarian means? Nothing justifies hatred against others, no matter who they are. But you can’t create tolerance by brute force. Violence can only bring violence. Can you force someone to be ‘more tolerant’?”
Estonia is one of the more forward thinking Baltic states when it comes to LGBTI rights.
The country has laws banning discrimination against LGBTI people and allows gays to serve openly in the military and gay and lesbian people may adopt as single people and foster children as a couple.
It is also one of the few Baltic states where gay pride marches are held regularly without major incidents occurring.
For proponents of the bill, it represents another step for the nation on its path towards becoming a liberal and inclusive society. In two decades, Estonia has gone from being part of the Soviet Union to an enthusiastic member of NATO, the European Union, and the eurozone.