A draft bill which would see a referendum on the definition of marriage take place in Estonia in the spring is to be put before the Riigikogu by mid-December. With the Christmas break, this may not leave enough time for planned referendum to take place on its current scheduled date of April 18, however.
The Riigikogu's constitutional committee opted on Thursday to put the bill, drawn up by the coalition, before the chamber by December 14. However, the bill would need to pass by January 18 in order for the referendum to go ahead three months later. The Christmas and New Year recess, and efforts by the opposition parties to block the bill's progress, may stop this from happening, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Thursday night.
Opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) MP Lauri Läänemets told AK: "Considering the amendments and considering their abundance, I do not see this possibility today that [the referendum] could take place on April 18."
Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP, and chair of the constitutional committee Anti Poolamets, said that the referendum should still be on track.
Poolamets said: "However, we do not know how many amendments will come and how much will be obstructed."
The referendum is an EKRE policy, which the party got on to the coalition agreement signed with Center and Isamaa in 2019, but all three parties submitted the bill. However, it was an Isamaa MP who prompted the first obstruction to the bill's passage, not an MP from SDE or Reform, the other, and larger, opposition party.
Siim Kiisler (Isamaa) voted to scrap the referendum at the beginning of the week. However, Isamaa replaced Kiisler with MP Heiki Hepner on the committee, with the latter appearing at Thursday's committee meeting, which was conducted remotely due to coronavirus considerations.
The bill presents the question to be posed to the Estonian public – only citizens may vote in referendums – will be: "Should marriage remain a union between a man and a woman in Estonia?" with a yes/no answer being the option.
The bill's first reading should now take place on December 14, with amendments due by December 30, less than three weeks before the bill must pass if the marriage vote is to take place on its scheduled date.
SDE says it will table thousands of amendments to ensure this will not happen; Läänemets told AK that there were more pressing issues such as the coronavirus pandemic at present.
Anti Poolamets told AK that ways around this had not been hammered out yet.
Reform MP Hanno Pevkur told AK that the bill was unclear as to what will happen in the event of a "no" vote – a yes vote would simply leave the current legislation, the Family Law Act – which defines marriage as between one man and one woman – as is.
Editor: Andrew Whyte