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Opposition to Civil Partnership Bill Is a Vestige of Authoritarian, Eastern Mindsets

Sirje Kiin, an Estonian literary scholar, writer, journalist and translator currently living in the US, sees the opposition to the gender-neutral Cohabitation Act, no matter how nominally Christian, as part and parcel with homophobia emanating from Putin-ruled Russia.

The draft Cohabitation Act initiated by 40 MPs and approved in May is inflaming passions. The new act wants make registration of civil partnership possible for couples who for some reason don't want to or can't marry but still need legal guarantees for their partnership.

Since re-independence, Estonia has consistently striven toward Western values and has frequently enjoyed successes in a number of areas. It's incredible that such strident opposition has arisen to the very neutrally worded Cohabitation Act, which does not equate cohabitation with marriage either terminologically or in its substance.

Let's look at some of the primary objections. One of them is that Estonia's demographic situation is on such thin ice that Estonia cannot permit legitimizing same-sex couples living together. But how can a same-sex couple threaten the Estonian institution of marriage, which is in ruins anyway? Only 41 percent of children were born to married parents in 2010. Most are born out of wedlock even with same-sex cohabitation not being legally protected. Most young Estonians prefer civil partnership, which gives them no legal certainty, but they, too, would start to be protected by the same gender neutral Cohabitation Act. In Western countries, many same-sex couples are raising children who are the biological offspring of one of the partners or have been adopted or conceived through a surrogate mother. An Australian study even confirms that children of same-sex parents enjoy more success later in life than do different-gender parents' kids. Certainly they fare no worse.

Nor does the unscientific belief that children of same-sex couples are in at greater risk of sex abuse than in hetero families pass muster. Statistics show the opposite. The equal sign drawn between pedophilia and same-sex cohabitation comes from ignorance, amplified by a mentality from Soviet times, when homosexuality was a crime and termed "pederasty."

I read with sadness articles from otherwise well educated Estonian teachers and lawyers who still treat homosexuality as if it were a voluntary choice, not a scientifically proven genetic variation that a person can't do anything about.

In 2012, a study conducted in Estonia found that 43 percent of respondents considered it an inborn trait while 40 recent said it stemmed from a person's own volition. Two percent said environment or upbringing determined sexual orientation. There were equal numbers - 46 percent - for and against registration of same-sex cohabitation, but a big difference was seen among ethnicities - 51 percent of Estonians were in favor, with youths and women more tolerant while only 35 percent of Russians supported the law. The difference again points to the intolerance prevalent in Russian social space, which has today been inflated to strident anti-gay propaganda that has taken on a form that disparages all Western values.

It's on the background of what is going on in Russia these days that the 200,000 e-mails sent to MPs and 45,000 signatures on a petition seen like a phenomenon related to the dark Eastern political space, even though it would ostensibly be connected to defending the sacred institution of marriage.

Of course society can influence people's sexual preferences to a certain extent in one or another direction, and it has done so for centuries, so many people born with a deviant trait have been forced to suppress an inborn sexual predilection for half or all of their lives. But free, developed societies do not generally do so in the 21st century.

I don't like the other extreme either - the aggressive gay propaganda, provocative gay parades, but I do understand, having studied social science, that any big pressure in society has its consequences. Protest spawned by long oppression and vocal and flamboyant calls for justice are an inevitable part of the journey toward liberation and equality Such a fraught situation is resolved only by the according of equal rights and opportunities, not prohibitions and hiding the problem.

The least constructive thing of all is the digressive argument often seen in Estonia that the problem is secondary and we have more pressing problems.

It's also not true that the bill has drafted hastily and secretively. Preparations began five years ago, it has repeatedly been up for public comment, with feedback from more than 8,000 people. and many organisations.

The bill and 29 pages of annotations have been online for a long time, like all laws drafted in e-Estonia. The bill is emphatically gender neutral, considering the values of all people who consider marriage only between a man and a woman and consider only such a marriage sacrosanct.

The especially active opponents of the legislation have been Estonia's Christian circles. They should recall the words of Pope Francis: "Who am I to judge?"

I wish with all my heart that Estonia will become the first country to decidedly and irrevocably ditches the red eastern camp of intolerance and joins the world's progressive countries in this matter.

(Translated and lightly abridged from the piece on

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