Estonia welcomes civil partnerships

Estonia has become the first former Soviet country to legalise gay marriage

Estonia has passed a new law allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships, making it the first former Soviet state to grant legal recognition to gay partners. The law, which will take effect in 2016, has been hailed by some as a sign that Estonia is moving away from Moscow’s conservative influence, and aligning with its more liberal Scandinavian neighbours.

“The Constitution dictates equal treatment of all citizens. In a society that respects human rights … homosexual couples have full rights to enjoy family life and a right not to be condemned,” said President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a strong supporter of the reforms, as he signed the bill into law.

Still, the law’s slim passage – by just two votes, with 23 lawmakers abstaining – is a reminder that gay rights remains a divisive issue in Estonia, where religious groups and many ethnic Russians are still firmly opposed to egalitarian policies.

Other former Soviet states remain similarly divided over gay rights. Kyrgyzstan appears set to follow Russia’s lead by passing a “gay propaganda” law that would see people who encourage “a positive attitude to untraditional sexual relations” punished with up to a year in jail.

In Latvia meanwhile, foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics sparked a fierce debate this month after using Twitter to “proudly announce” that he was gay, and to call for legal reforms.

“Our country has to create a legal status for all kinds of partner relationships, and I will fight for this,” Rinkevics said.

Even Russia, despite its strongly anti-gay laws, saw its first same-sex marriage this month, with a transgender woman whose passport still listed her as male using the document to marry her female partner. “It was the first [gay wedding] in Russia,” LGBT activist Anna Anisimova told reporters. “Both brides wore white dresses.”