Minister hopes marriage equality bill reaches Riigikogu before Midsummer

Signe Riisalo.
Signe Riisalo. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Estonian Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) expressed hope that the bill on marriage equality will reach the Riigikogu before the summer break. The new Estonian government has pledged to adopt the implementing provisions for the Registered Partnership Act, which was passed in 2014.

Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) told ERR radio, that all laws containing the word "spouse" or "marriage" need to be amended, and the word "cohabiting partner" or other clarifications added where necessary.

"This is really the main issue. There are around hundred such laws, or maybe a few less," Riisalo said, adding that the implications of each provision also need to be considered.

The same draft should also cover the issue of cohabitation. It makes sense to deal with complex and socially sensitive issues in a single draft, the minister said, especially as the amendments to the Family Law Act would not be as extensive as implementing the provisions of the Registered Partnership Act. Doing it all in one go will allow everyone to enjoy their rights equally and not prolong the pain and anxiety that exist in society, Riisalo reasoned.

According to Riisalo, work on the draft has already begun. While the new government only received its mandate on Monday, the coalition agreement was made public earlier, meaning Ministry of Justice officials are already aware that they would soon be dealing with the issue.

"Yesterday morning we had the first substantive discussion, I will certainly meet with the various parties in the coming weeks," she said. "If everything goes according to plan, /.../ it will probably be possible to review the existing drafts within a month, make corrections, and then move on."

According to Riisalo, the aim is to ensure that the draft bill reaches the Riigikogu before the summer recess. Then the Riigikogu itself will be able to decide on how to proceed with the law.

Riisalo also mentioned, that adoption was one of the issues to be considered in the Registered Partnership Act. For example, while a cohabitation agreement is in force, only intra-family adoptions are possible, while cohabiting couples are unable to adopt. In her view, efforts should be made to make the rules as equal as possible for people who are cohabiting or married and, in the future, for people in a same-sex marriages.

"This, I think, still means, that while it is (now) only possible for opposite-sex spouses to adopt children together if they are married, the same could also be true for same-sex couples," the minister said.

As to whether the wording of the Family Law Act will be amended in the coalition agreement to state that marriage is between two adults, Riisalo was unable to say. Lawyers are currently working on the precise wording, though the principle is indeed the same, she said.

"Of course, there are some nuances and details to be considered. There are people among us whose capacity to act is limited in some way. These aspects also need to be weighed up and the regulation must be correct to the very end," Riisalo said.

Asked whether same-sex couples would also have the right to adopt, Riisalo said, that when comparing regulations in different countries regarding same-sex marriage, in most cases, the definition of parenthood through adoption prevails. However, regarding the issue of surrogacy, whereby a woman gives birth to a child, which would then be adopted by two married men for money, Riisalo a broader debate would first be required.

According to Riisalo, the best approach for Estonia might be one whereby surrogacy would only be allowed if a woman is medically unable to have children.

"This is a matter for discussion and we are not going to regulate it at the moment," she said, adding that when it comes to surrogacy, there are a number of issues to be resolved and the current coalition has no immediate plans to address them.

Riisalo pointed out that if Estonia legalizes same-sex marriage, it will be the 20th country in Europe and the 35th in the world to have done so.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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