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Estonia Legalizes Marriage Equality

Estonia Legalizes Marriage Equality

Pride parade in Estonia

Despite the vote, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments remain in the Baltic country.

The legislative body in the Baltic country of Estonia voted to legalize marriage equality on Tuesday. By a vote of 55-34, the 101-seat Riigikogu amended the country’s Family Law Act and other laws to legalize marriage equality, the first of the former Soviet satellite states to do so. The amended law is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2024.

“Everyone should have the right to marry the person they love and want to commit to. With this decision we are finally stepping among … all the rest of the democratic countries in the world where marriage equality has been granted,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in a statement. “This is a decision that does not take anything away from anyone but gives something important to many. It also shows that our society is caring and respectful towards each other. I am proud of Estonia.”

“We are proud to become the first Baltic country to legalize same-sex marriage!” Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna tweeted.

The new law will permit same-sex couples to marry as well as enter into a registered partnership. Those in registered partnerships will also be able to convert their relationship into a marriage in a simple procedure.

Despite the vote, there remains opposition to marriage equality and LGBTQ+ right in the country. Equaldex gave Estonia a rating of only 60 out of 100, noting there is no nonbinary gender recognition by the government, gay people can only adopt stepchildren, and conversion therapy is not banned. A 2023 poll by the Centre for Human Rights showed support rising for marriage equality, though, with 53 percent in favor compared to only 34 percent a decade earlier.

“This was a good opportunity for the government, because the public opinion on same-sex marriage has turned to positive, and after this year’s election it has the numbers to overcome the conservative opposition,” Tomas Jermalavicius, head of studies at the International Centre for Defence and Security, told Reuters.

Estonia along with neighboring Latvia and Lithuania were forced to become satellite states of the former Soviet Union (USSR) following the Second World War. The three Baltic countries won their de facto independence following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR. Estonia officially became an independent state in 1991.

Earlier this year, Latvia elected a gay man as president. Edgars Rinkēvičs was elected by its parliament to the largely ceremonial role, a first not just for a Baltic country but also for the European Union. Rinkēvičs will be inaugurated on July 8 for a four-year term.

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