Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) says he does not agree with President Kersti Kaljulaid's decision to return unsigned to the Riigikogu legal amendments to the law governing Estonia's overseas diplomatic corps, saying that her reasoning – that the amendments discriminated against partners under the Registered Partnership Act vis-a-vis married couples – was inconsistent with her earlier actions and an attempt to change the law on marriage via stealth.
"When drawing up the law, the legislature has clearly stated that it does not want to extend the status of a spouse to other groups. There is no constitutional requirement that persons who have entered into a cohabitation agreement in Estonia should have all the rights parallel to marriage," Reinsalu, whose ministry oversees Estonia's foreign missions, said Thursday, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.
The president returned the law to the Riigikogu, which is on summer recess at present, on the grounds it was unconstitutional in its different treatment meted out to the legal spouses of diplomats and others involved in foreign service compared with that for partners under the Registered Partnership Act.
"It is precisely this goal that the president's veto serves: If the bill implementing the law on cohabitation, the purpose of which was to create a parallel marriage, could not be adopted due to the reluctance of the legislature, the same result might then be achieved through laws on other sectors," he went on.
The president said Thursday that the portion of the amendments regulating social guarantees for spouses and partners of officials in foreign service runs counter to the constitution, in treating the two groups differently.
Reinsalu also hit out at the president's use of precedent to back up her argument for not promulgating the legal amendment.
"The Supreme Court has not said anything specifically about the Foreign Service Act, and we do not use Anglo-American case law in Estonia," he said.
Reinsalu: President has not been consistent in her application of precedent, an approach which in any case is not wholly applicable to Estonia
The president had cited a Supreme Court ruling from 2019, in which it deemed similar unequal treatment in the context of the social tax to be anti-constitutional.
Reinsalu also said hat the president had, early on in her tenure in late 2016, previously passed amendments to the same act which also referred to diplomat's spouses, and had also done the same with similar segments of the Land Reform Act.
Helir-Valdor Seeder, leader of Reinsalu's Isamaa party, took the same line, saying that the benefits provided to spouses (but not partners) under the Foreign Service Act had been the same for many years and only now had suddenly been declared unconstitutional by the president.
The Riigikogu can look at the amendments once it is back from its summer break, from early September. If it sends the amendments back to the president unchanged, or not changed to her liking, she can constitutionally send the case to the Supreme Court, where the Estonian state would be represented by Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise.
The issue of marriage and more specifically same-sex marriage has recently divided the coalition, with the smaller Isamaa and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) parties generally taking the line that marriage should be constitutionally defined as being between one man and one woman, which would require an amendment to the constitution, while the prime minister, Jüri Ratas, of the senior coalition party Center saying that he doesn't see such an amendment necessary.
The Registered Partnership Act allows non-married couples to legally register their partnership. The gender-neutral legislation, which was passed in 2015, establishes a legal situation similar to a civil partnership. Same-sex couples, for example, cannot be legally married in Estonia (though at least one same-sex marriage has been conducted in Estonia by a foreign diplomatic mission - ed.) but they can register their partnerships under the Registered Partnership Act.
Editor: Andrew Whyte