Quarter of A Century With the Cohabitation Act (6)

Aro Velmet is a PhD student at New York University
5/5/2014 4:20 PM
Category: Opinion

The experience of other countries shows that regulating cohabitation is not an esoteric legal issue or the morally damaging project of a minor clique. Instead, we see that people form their opinions based on their personal moral, religious and political values; and traditional values, be it Christian or Neopagan, are compatible with gender-neutral cohabitation, Aro Velmet said.

Uncertainty about the future seems to be the force that spurs on the oppnents of the cohabitation act. Isn’t the law that is gender-neutral and regulates the legal relations of registered couples the beginning of a slippery slope that ends in legalizing gay marriage, journalist Toivo Tänavsuu asked in the program "Vabariigi Kodanikud" at the end of April.

The defender of the “traditional family” Varro Vooglaid believes that the law is being peddled by some international, well-funded “gay movement” that either ignores the people or gains its support with brainwashing. Erki Nool simply fears that the Estonian society is not ready for the cohabitation law yet. Who knows what explosion may ensue when forces as powerful as the state, family and traditions clash?

It is actually quite easy to answer these questions - gender-neutral cohabitation laws have existed in various countries for already a quarter of a century, starting with Denmark in 1989.

Obviously, one must be careful when comparing Estonia to other countries, because the cultural and social conditions are naturally different elsewhere. However, the countries with partnership laws are so disparate (they include secular Nordic countries like Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark as well as catholic southern European countries like Spain and Portugal, rich like France and poor like South Africa, conservative US states and cosmopolitan centers) that it is easy to find an analogue to our local concerns from the practical experience of the world.

The practical experience, in turn, shows that cohabitation laws are passed after wide-ranging lively debates, and as a rule, they have the support of both heterosexual as well as gay couples, and the conflicts that increase tensions in the media during these debates usually cool down later. There is no record of a collapse of society and morals in the thirty-seven countries where cohabitation laws currently exist.

So what could be learned from the experience of other countries? Varro Vooglaid is right about the cohabitation laws being supported by international and often well-funded organizations (for example, by the International Lesbian and Gay Association) and several human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and various civil associations. In essence, these movements are no different from the associations that protect the “traditional family” (like Vooglaid’s Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition), although the proponents of the cohabitation law have probably not found an international organization as powerful as the Catholic church to endorse it.

There are many different opinions within these supporting organizations and many members do not always agree with the official positions of their associations, just like there are numerous Catholics who do not share the Vatican’s official opposition to gender-neutral cohabitation.

Since there are allies that have become organized for various reasons on both sides, then instead of looking for conspiracies, it would be more reasonable to look at how public opinion has responded to the passing of cohabitation laws and what have been the social consequences.

First, we can see that the regulation of cohabitation did not take place “against the will of the people.” For example, in France in 1999, 50 percent of people supported legalizing the so-called civil unions or PACS according to polls, after a long and lively debate in the parliament and the media. It should be noted that in Estonia, 46 percent of people supported the partnership law as of 2012.

The case of Spain is even more interesting; in 2005, 66 percent supported legalizing gender-neutral marriage and only 26 percent were opposed - that in a country where four out of five people are Catholic. The same could be witnessed in Argentina and Brazil, where legalizing gender-neutral marriage is currently supported by 70 and 60 percent respectively.

Many analysts argue that it was Catholicism that led these countries to legalize gender-neutral marriage, whereas in the secular Nordic countries it was cohabitation that was regulated. Here we can see that there may not necessarily be a conflict between the traditional Christian family values and contemporary modes of cohabitation - for many religious people, homosexual couples and Christian values can co-exist, even if some clerics disagree.

Third, we can see that as time goes by, the cohabitation laws become more and more popular among heterosexual and gay couples. In France, the number of PACS each year almost rivals the number of marriages and it is mostly heterosexual couples who register. The number of marriages has indeed gone down by a sixth, but in general, more people than ever register their partnerships. The number of births has even increased when compared to 1999.

Studying how people’s opinions on marriage and homosexuality changes, there are few signs of brainwashing and weak morals of the young. Last year, the Pew Institute in the US studied the change in attitudes of people from different generations and noted that support to gender-neutral cohabitation has gone up in all age groups (admittedly, the increase was especially rapid in people born in 1990 and later). Nearly a third of the people who changed their opinion did so after a personal contact with a homosexual friend or relative and a quarter of the people surveyed said that they thought more carefully about the issue. Only 18 percent said that they changed their views only to “go with the times.”

Let’s set aside the issue of to what extent the public opinion should interfere with people’s private lives for a moment. The experience of other countries shows that regulating cohabitation is not an esoteric legal issue or the morally damaging project of a minor clique. Instead, we see that people form their opinion based on their personal moral, religious and political values; and traditional values, be it Christian or Neopagan, are compatible with gender-neutral cohabitation.

The possibility to register cohabitation has not ruined societies, let alone religions and traditions - but it has created new forms of legal protection that have proven very popular and made people rethink their views. This could only be a good sign, because we all love people who think.

So let the debate continue in Estonia, but hopefully in a way where the focus is on arguments and the empiric, instead of fear and insecurity, because there has been a fair share of both in the course of this quarter-of-a-century long global debate.


Aro Velmet is a PhD student at New York University. His piece was translated from the original published in Estonian on uudised.err.ee.

The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

Reply to comment

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
Add new comment
  • foto
    Opinion digest: Open Enterprise Estonia’s consultation services and assessments to competition

    Enterprise Estonia handed out advice to companies, and assessed whether or not they should receive public support, without being economically accountable, lawyer Taivo Ruus wrote in a Postimees opinion piece on Monday. This needed to change, and these activities delegated to professionals.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: The Reform Party’s new role

    After 17 years in government, Reform needed to find to a new role, and instead of being the manager of the Estonian state become a debater. How the party would get used to its new position, no longer able to dictate the political agenda, remained to be seen, said political scientist Mari-Liis Jakobson in a comment on Vikerraadio on Friday.

  • foto
    Andrus Karnau: Minister of Rural Affairs likely to be replaced

    Speaking on Sunday’s Raadio 2 broadcast of "State of the Union," radio show host Andrus Karnau found that the scandal to break out last week involving Martin Repinski’s goat farm was likely to culminate on Monday in his replacement as a minister of the newly-installed Estonian government.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Baltic states on front line of new Cold War

    While the Baltic states would prefer full defensive capability, NATO is emphasizing its reinforcements’ function as a deterrent. The alliance would have to round off its military presence in the area with diplomacy, and political stability and dedication to liberal democratic values would play an important role maintaining the West’s solidarity, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putting Rail Baltica in its strategic context

    In an opinion piece in daily Postimees, former EU commissioner Siim Kallas points out that Rail Baltica goes far beyond considerations of its route on Estonian soil, and the money the government will have to invest. On the contrary, there is a broader European meaning that includes considering the strategic situation of Estonia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Dynasties and democracy don't go well together

    Speaking about the recent US presidential elections on Vikerraadio’s Sunday broadcast of "Samost and Rumm," hosts Anvar Samost and Hannes Rumm recognized that Donald Trump’s election win is being considered as the destruction of two political dynasties there, however democracy and dynasties don’t go well together anyway.

  • foto
    Opinion: Estonia’s lasting isolation

    The fact that too many foreign journalists do not understand the Estonian language, and that they have no access to the local political culture and its players, has distorted reports abroad of what happened this week, writes ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Left turns and ‘silent submission’

    The embarrassing conflation of the Reform Party’s self-image with the Estonian state is proof that it is high time they are sent into opposition, says journalist Alo Lõhmus.

  • foto
    Opinion: Getting rid of ruling party's privileges doesn't damage Estonia's reputation

    On Friday, the ministers of the Social Democrats (SDE) and the Pro Patra and Res Publica Union (IRL) began calling back Reform Party members from the boards of state-owned companies and funds. The Reform Party’s reaction was an announcement published on Sunday — a rather strange one, finds ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Ärma is more than just numbers

    Ärma Farm’s funding scandal was overshadowing the achievements of Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ presidency, including the fact that Estonia had benefited from state visits that Ilves hosted in Ärma, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) said to ERR on Thursday.

  • foto
    Benno Schirrmeister: Do Estonians dream of electric sheep?

    On a journalist exchange in Estonia, Benno Schirrmeister of Bremen’s TAZ is highly informed, yet a blank slate as far as a foreigner’s experience of Estonia is concerned. In his first op-ed about Tallinn, he spots something beyond IT that Estonia could advertise — but doesn’t.

  • foto
    Erkki Bahovski: Was 1940 approach better than modern journalism's 'war hysteria'?

    Linguist Urmas Sutrop has claimed that Estonian journalism is scaring people with the specter of war. Editor-in-Chief of monthly magazine Diplomaatia Erkki Bahovski, however, doesn’t agree.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kremlin in danger of losing sense of reality

    According to Ingo Mannteufel, head of the Department for Russia and Europe at Deutsche Welle, there is a possibility of the Kremlin starting to believe its own propaganda, which could lead to dangerous decisions both domestically and internationally.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia’s stagnating politics

    Estonia’s largest political parties had been going through the most serious crisis in their existence, and on top of that they had lost their most important function, namely to formulate a vision of the country’s future, daily Postimees wrote in its Friday editorial.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putin exploiting power vacuum created by U.S. presidential elections

    According to director of Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security and former ambassador to Russia, Jüri Luik, the increased tensions over the past few weeks between Russia and the West indicate Putin’s wish to exploit the ambiguous mood before the U.S. presidential elections as much as possible.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Time to return to discussing serious issues

    In a stinging opinion piece in published in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, member of the Riigikogu Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform) condemned the Estonian media as well as the country’s elites for their obsession with what he sees as pointless topics, while disregarding the last few weeks’ unsettling developments concerning Russia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Legally speaking, everything is proper

    After Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ decade in office, and after he promoted Estonia like no other president did before him, his legacy is now tainted by the fact that he seems to have gone for a substantial state grant in 2006 that he never put to use — and of which he will now pay back just a tenth.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Closer to Warsaw, farther away from Estonia

    In a recent opinion piece in daily Postimees, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote that one way to look at Rail Baltic was as a step towards the level other countries had already reached in terms of speed and comfort of their railway connections. The main weakness of this point of view was the fact that in Estonia, it lacked the necessary social context.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Leadership change in Reform needed for potential coalition with Center Party

    For a potential future coalition with the Center Party, the Reform Party needed to change its leader as well, Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Riigikogu’s Foreign Affairs Committee Sven Mikser wrote in a comment on social media on Friday.

  • foto
    Matthew Crandall: President Ilves’ global impact

    The greatest accomplishment of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is that he branded Estonia as a modern and innovative 21st century country, and brought it out of post-Soviet obscurity, writes Tallinn University’s Matthew Crandall.

  • foto
    The shackles of history and modern life in the fast lane: Estonia's experience in the migration crisis

    The uncertain public performances of Estonian politicians and poor explanatory work were to blame for a considerable increase in public distrust during the migration crisis, found ERR journalist Greete Palmiste, working in Bremen on an international journalists' exchange, in an opinion piece written for German publication taz.die Tageszeitung.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kersti Kaljulaid on the concepts of ethical nationalism and confident Estonians

    On Friday, Aug. 12, Estonian representative to the European Court of Auditors Kersti Kaljulaid delivered a patriotic speech on the Postimees Stage at the 2016 Opinion Festival in Paide in which she expanded on two words and two respective ideas she found important for her country that were represented by the two letter Es in its native-language name Eesti: eetiline (ethical) and enesekindel (confident).

  • foto
    This mess we're in: Picking up the pieces after Saturday's elections

    From Saturday’s election fiasco to Tuesday’s sudden emergence of a likely cross-party candidate: ERR News editor Dario Cavegn makes an attempt at explaining Estonia’s seemingly chaotic quest to find its next president.

  • foto
    Opinion: The decline of Estonian as a language of science starts abroad

    The Estonian language as a language of science is only sustainable in those subject areas that offer undergraduate courses in Estonian, and with which students begin their university education, finds ERR science portal editor Marju Himma.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Current approach to reform won't help municipalities

    The Center Party’s presidential candidate, Mailis Reps, wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees on Sunday that the Administrative Reform Act was a disappointment to Estonia’s municipalities, and that relations between local and central government were in a crisis.

  • foto
    Opinion: Jüri Nikolajev in response to the Ida-Viru secret memo

    Describing himself as "wearily spiteful" instead of angry, ERR's Narva correspondent Jüri Nikolajev responded to the top secret memo on Ida-Viru County that leaked recently, calling Estonians to figuratively not leave their property laying around if they did not want anyone else to take it for themselves.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Sulev Vedler on the secret memo on Ida-Viru County

    In 2015, the Government Security Committee received a secret memo containing a dark assessment of the future of Ida-Viru County, Estonia's most northeastern and predominantly Russian-speaking county, which was compiled by Ilmar Raag, who worked as a strategic communicatins advisor at the Stenbock House at the time. Estonian journalist Sulev Vedler responded to the memo by compiling various reactions to issues it addressed.

  • foto
    Opinion: Alo Lõhmus on the definition of Estonian citizen by blood

    Journalist Alo Lõhmus explored the right to Estonian citizenship by "jus sanguinis," Latin for right of blood, as it relates to one's eligibility to run for president — an issue which has had particular attention drawn to it recently after members of a competing political party attempted to cast doubt on the status of presidential candidate Marina Kaljurand's Estonian citizenship.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Erkki Bahovski on Finland and the alleged Baltic scheming

    Columnist Erkki Bahovski commented on the curious, decidedly defensive turn that seemed to be taken by Finland's Social Democrats following the release of a lengthy report by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (UPI) which suggested that Russia, in its own self-interest, is attempting to hamper Finland's total integration with the West.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Siim Kallas thinks real estate tax effective way to finance local government

    The Reform Party’s presidential candidate, Siim Kallas, said in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees that an estate tax, more precisely a tax levied on real estate, could be considered to finance local government.