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Latvian lawmakers blocked same-sex marriages by changing the Baltic state's constitution on Thursday, infuriating gay rights activists, who said they may take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Latvia, a former Soviet republic that joined the European Union last year, sees itself as a progressive democracy enjoying one of Europe's fastest-growing economies. But many people retain conservative views about the family and gay rights.
"It is ridiculous that Latvia is sinking into a homophobic society when the rest of Europe is going the other way," said political analyst Karlis Streips, who is gay. Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands have all provided marriage rights to gays in the last five years, while a British law permitting same-sex civil partnerships came into effect earlier this month.
Analysts said Thursday's amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman had effectively blocked the legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Latvia. "Of course we will be called homophobes and worse," said Ainars Bastiks, minister for children and family affairs. "But we are a democracy, and we have a right to make our own decisions after discussions." He added: "For conservative societies, it shows that we can protect our values."
Latvia's parliament passed the amendment easily, with 65 votes for, six against, and nine abstentions, a result that drew applause from some lawmakers. "This is not against gays. It is supporting traditional families," said lawmaker Oskars Kastens of the First Party, a ruling-coalition party that proposed the amendment. "Looking at trends in Europe, we are against liberalization of the idea of family. It is the same in both Lithuania and Poland."
Latvian gay rights activists immediately denounced the decision, saying it is discriminatory and runs counter to a European trend toward recognizing same-sex marriages. (Reuters)