A draft naming law currently being processed at ministerial level is conservative leaning, Minister of Population Affairs Riina Solman (Isamaa) says, reflecting a desire to preserve Estonian naming traditions in the face of a changing world in terms of immigration and the status of same-sex partnerships.
At the same time, once it reaches the Riigikogu debate might prompt amendments of a more liberal nature, she said.
Speaking to ERR radio show "Vikerhommik" Monday morning, Solman said that a new version of the Names Act has been necessitated by developments in recent years, including people coming from third (loosely defined as non-EU/EEA – ed.) countries, as well as those seeking asylum in Estonia.
"For example, people from third countries come to us without a surname. If adults can do it, then children at school actually need a surname. We have beneficiaries of international protection. There are different things," the minister explained.
Solman also said that as the bill progresses from cabinet to Riigikogu, debate is likely to arise around whether its provisions should be more, or less, conservative. If the latter emerged, she said, the law would need rewriting, adding that facets such as the protection of names would need to stay to protect the populace from people changing their names for malicious purposes.
"Since it is customary, for instance, for pedophiles to change their names in order to continue pursuing their same sickness, a limit has to be imposed on these things," she said.
Asked whether same-sex partners could also see one of the pair changing their second name, Solman said that this was not viable because it would mean the state treating such pairings differently from heterosexual partnerships (i.e. the latter would not be able to necessarily change their second name - ed.).
The cohabitation act, properly titled the Registered Partnerships Act, passed several years ago and aimed at legalizing same-sex registered partnerships, though not full marriages, lacks an implementing act which would make its provisions come into full effect.
Solman added that the draft bill was not to be taken as an implementing act.
"If we one day reach the point with society where we are discussing the implementing acts for the cohabitation act and adopting this [naming] amendment there as well, then the Names Act may also change [again]."
Even at cabinet level, there were differences, she added, with social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) wanting to make same-sex partners share the same second name, a move which did not sit well with the interior ministry, under whose auspices Solman's role lies.
"[The Ministry's] experience was that the name law should be conservative in nature; it should respect our cultural tradition, one which is 200 years old and concerns lines of descent, family, and the privileges of marriage. Therefore, a conservative character has been baked in to the law since it was drafted," Solman said.
As of Monday morning a Green Party petition to amend the Family Law Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, had polled over 24,000 signatures online, via the citizens initiative website.
Riina Solman said that while she had not signed the petition herself, if citizens come together and wish to draft a petition which would find its way to the Riigikogu, this should be welcomed.
"I maintain that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman, but I recognize that all people, as Pope Francis recently said, must be happy and content," she said, adding that she does not think the petition will make it as far as parliament, though it has far exceeded the 1,000 minimum level to head in that direction.
Editor: Andrew Whyte