Same-sex registered partners granted right to shared surname

Balloons spelling out LOVE in the crowd at Baltic Pride in Tallinn in 2017.
Balloons spelling out LOVE in the crowd at Baltic Pride in Tallinn in 2017. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Nine years after the Registered Partnership Act was passed and seven years after it entered into force, same-sex couples in a registered partnership in Estonia were finally granted the right to legally share a surname following a decision by Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE).

"There's no reason whatsoever why the state should stand in people's way here," Läänemets told ERR, commenting on his recent decision reversing the Ministry of the Interior's prior refusal to allow people in same-sex registered partnerships to change their surname to match their partner's.

According to the minister, he requested a legal analysis of the Names Act from the ministry and the analysis suggested that the minister has the right to interpret the rules this way.

The Estonian Institute of Human Rights (EIHR), which represented a same-sex couple that had applied to share a single surname, announced Wednesday that it had reached a compromise with the ministry without waiting for a court decision.

"As a result of meetings and negotiations that took place this January, the Ministry of the Interior reviewed the practice of granting common surnames included in the Names Act, and on January 27, Minister of the Interior Läänemets signed a protocol according to which a registered partnership is grounds for all partnership families applying for a shared surname," Kelly Grossthal, head of collaborations at EIHR, told ERR on Thursday.

Grossthal nonetheless stressed that as the current status quo is based on a minister's decision, not case law, then the next interior minister could change it again.

"This nonetheless doesn't resolve the more general legal clarity issue generated by the Registered Partnership Act being passed but the absence of its associated implementing provisions," she explained.

Nonetheless, she added, the current change will provide stronger grounds for challenging it in court should a subsequent interior minister choose to revoke the right to grant a shared surname to same-sex registered partners in the future.

Läänemets said as much to ERR as well.

According to the Ministry of the Interior's information, to date, four same-sex couples have been granted a shared surname in Estonia.

According to EIHR, the current situation is complicated by the fact that the Names Act provides for spouses legally marrying to change their surname to match their partner's, but the same opportunity isn't explicitly guaranteed to partners who enter registered partnerships.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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