First ex-Soviet state legalizes gay marriage

The amendment to Estonia’s Family Law, passed in June, took effect at the start of 2024

Estonia became the first former Soviet republic to legalize gay marriage on Monday, opening marriage applications to same-sex couples with the new year.

Applications are expected to take between one and six months to process, with the first approvals expected by February 2.

Estonia’s parliament voted to legalize gay marriage in June as an amendment to the country’s Family Law. The measure passed 55 to 34 in a victory LGBTQ advocates have credited to the efforts of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ progressive regime.

“It’s an important moment that shows Estonia is a part of Northern Europe,” Baltic Pride project manager Keio Soomelt told The Guardian on Monday. Including Estonia, 15 of the EU’s 27 member countries allow same-sex marriage.

Soomelt praised the newly-amended law as “a very important message from the government that says, finally, we are as equal as other couples; that we are valuable and entitled to the same services and have the same options.”

Estonia has legally recognized civil partnerships for same-sex couples since 2013, though civil unions lacked the adoption rights and parental recognition enjoyed by married partners. Under the new law, married same-sex couples may legally adopt children and register cohabitation, which comes with government benefits and other privileges.

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First ex-Soviet state legalizes gay marriage
Ukraine considers LGBTQ breakthrough

Gay marriage remains controversial in the Baltic nation, with just 53% of Estonians supporting same-sex unions last year, according to a poll conducted by the Estonian Human Rights Centre. However, opinions have shifted significantly since a decade ago, when just 34% approved of the practice.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Estonia following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

While neighboring Latvia elected its first openly gay president, Edgars Rinkevics, last year, gay marriage remains illegal in that country. Parliament passed a law in November allowing same-sex civil unions that was frozen by Rinkevics in response to opposition protests pending a national referendum. Lithuania bans both civil unions and same-sex marriage.

Hoping to streamline Ukraine’s own accession to the EU, former deputy culture minister Inna Sovsun submitted legislation to parliament in March to recognize same-sex civil unions, arguing that it would both reward the service of LGBTQ soldiers and please Kiev’s foreign backers. The measure has stalled, with President Vladimir Zelensky insisting constitutional changes regarding same-sex marriage could not be made during wartime.

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