In Estonia, backing Ukraine isn’t controversial … but gay marriage is

In Estonia, backing Ukraine isn’t controversial … but gay marriage is
Опубликовано: Friday, 17 March 2023 12:31

PM Kaja Kallas has invited two liberal parties for coalition talks, potentially opening the way for same-sex marriage to become law.


Over the past year, Kaja Kallas has developed an image as a strong supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia. The next battlefield for the Estonian leader is closer to home … same-sex marriage.

Currently non-existent throughout the former Soviet nations, same-sex marriage has emerged as one of the major issues in coalition talks led by Kallas, the Estonian prime minister whose party won the most votes in elections in early March.

For the liberals, this could be their best chance to get gay marriage on the statute books. While the registered partnership act of 2014 did grant some limited rights to gay and lesbian couples, it was never implemented as there was always a conservative party in government blocking its adoption.

This time, with Kallas inviting two liberal parties into the coalition, Estonia could be on course to become the first Baltic to allow same-sex marriage.

“For almost a decade, there has been little to no progress when it comes to the rights of same-sex couples in Estonia,” Lauri Läänemets, interior minister and chairman of the Estonian Social Democratic Party, told POLITICO. “[Now] all three parties engaged in coalition talks are liberal-progressive and two of them … support both passing the registered partnership implementation acts, but also same-sex marriage.”

That sentiment is echoed by Estonia 200 (Eesti 200), a group formed in 2018 and the smaller of the two potential coalition junior parties.

“Every moment is the right moment to stand up for minority rights,” said Liisa Pakosta, who won a seat in the parliament for Estonia 200 in this month’s election.

Pakosta, however, acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue.

“The likelihood of the subject being included in the final coalition platform is uncertain at the moment. The Eesti 200 party is committed to achieving marriage equality in the coalition platform. However, if the opposition is too strong from its partners, the party will explore all possibilities of realizing its ambitious and innovative program as a whole.”

Some of that opposition comes from within Kallas’ own Estonian Reform Party, which holds 36 of the 101 seats in the parliament. While the progressive urbanites — as well as Kallas herself — are on board with marriage equality, some lawmakers from rural areas fear a potential backlash should gay marriage become a party priority.

“The topic of same-sex marriage has not yet been reached in the coalition talks. It will probably be discussed sometime during next week,” Kajar Kase, director of communications for the Reform Party, told POLITICO.

For now, Kallas’ party would only commit to supporting moves to implement civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Estonia legalized civil partnerships for all couples back in 2014, but the parliament has been unable to pass legislation to enforce it.

“Experience in other countries has shown that following the adoption of same-sex marriage legislation, the public support for it will start to grow rather quickly,” Läänemets, the interior minister, said. “Should Kaja Kallas be able to persuade her party to also support a perhaps more ambitious agenda for same-sex marriage rights, that could be a landmark decision not only for Estonia — but for the wider region.”

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