Parliament voted Wednesday against IRL's motion to send the gender-neutral Cohabitation Act to a referendum, with 35 in favor and 42 against. Later in the day, MPs also quashed a further attempt by IRL to kill the bill, by a similar margin, 41-33 with 20 abstentions.
The two votes today were fairly close to the margin of the June 19 pre-summer recess vote in which MPs supported continuing deliberations on the bill - in that vote, 45 MPs were against killing the bill while 32 voted in favor of the motion to dismiss the bill.
The last vote Wednesday evening (results by MP and party here) now means that the bill, which does not address gay marriage per se but would allow cohabiting couples of any gender to register and potentially enjoy financial benefits equal to married couples, will head to the third and final reading tomorrow.
The issue has become the talk of the nation as "focus on the family" groups rally against what they see as a threat to values while supporters paint the bill's changes as the mere minimum in terms of human dignity. A distinct third camp, although tending to be associated with the first group, argues that the bill is technically flawed and rushed and may not accomplish its objective.
IRL, a national conservatiive party now in the opposition, has alienated some by opposing the bill but in fact an ERR-Emor poll found 38 percent of its voters support the bill, not far off the national average. IRL called for the question to be put to a referendum instead.
This morning, as a last pitch before the vote on the referendum motion, IRL chairman Urmas Reinsalu attempted to link the referendum motion with the main discussion on the bill, saying that his party would agree to take back the motion to put the Cohabitation Act to a referendum if the other parties agreed to cut short the second reading.
"Unfortunately intolerance and aggressive opposition has deepened in society while this act has been in process. It would not be reasonable to push such a law through in hasty fashion in disregard of good practice for Parliamentary proceedings," he said, uudised.err.ee reported.
"IRL Is offering parliamentary factions a compromise: let's agree that IRL will take the referendum proposal back but also cut off the second reading to look for common ground on this issue," he said.
The Social Democrats, none of whom voted to kill the bill in the Wednesday evening vote with only three abstentions, rebuffed the offer.
"We understand IRL's attempts to keep the topic for elections so that they could continue their two-faced politics. I don't consider it necessary to accede to this," said faction leader Karel Rüütli in Postimees.
"From the standpoint of the Estonian state's future, it is more important to focis on resolving the problem of low wages and improving financial security for families with children."