Historic decision: Estonia legalizes same-sex marriage

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Baltic Pride 2023 in Tallinn, Saturday, June 10, 2023.
Baltic Pride 2023 in Tallinn, Saturday, June 10, 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi / ERR

Tuesday, the Estonian government has survived a vote of no confidence in the Riigikogu tied to amendments to the Family Law Act and related legislation, which is granting same-sex couples the legal right to wed.

55 members of the Riigikogu voted in favor of the measure, while 34 voted against.

It is proposed that the institution of marriage, as defined by family law, be modified so that  any two natural persons of legal age, regardless of gender, may marry. The words "man and woman" will be replaced with the words "two natural persons."

The 85 amendments to the Family Law Act and other legislation which will introduce same-sex marriage contracts also include the establishment of the implementing acts for the Registered Partnership Act.

Going forward, alongside marriage, people will continue to enjoy the right to enter into a registered partnership. Such a partnership guarantees the right of registered spouses to have a say in decisions pertaining to their partner and to obtain support and benefits as needed. Couples who enter into a registered partnership will also be able to convert their status to marriage in a simplified procedure should they wish to do so.

The proposal also clarifies the Family Law Act's regulation of parenthood in regards to same-sex couples' adoption rights.

Both marriage and registered partnerships bring rights and obligations for couples which do not extend to those in de facto relationships. These are mostly linked to home, assets, parentage and obtaining support. For example, in the event of the death of one spouse or registered partner this will help to prevent situations in which the surviving partner, in the absence of a will, has no right to inherit the other partner's assets, all of which are automatically transferred to their relatives instead.

The help of the spouse or registered partner will also be used to confirm previously expressed intentions if the other spouse or registered partner is unconscious or incapable of exercising their will, so as to decide whether to accept or reject medical treatment.

The act is planned to enter into force on January 1, 2024.

The amendments required for entries to be made in regard to registered partnerships contracted between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2023 prior to the remaining amendments taking effect will enter into force on October 1, 2023.

While Estonia passed the Registered Partnership Act back in 2014, its implementing provisions, or other amendments necessary for its full implementation, were shelved for years. With Tuesday's decision, Estonia becomes the second country in Eastern Europe to allow same-sex marriage, following Slovenia.

"Everyone should have the right to marry the person they love and want to commit to. With this decision we are finally stepping among other Nordic countries as well as all the rest of the democratic countries in the world where marriage equality has been granted," Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said. "This is a decision that does not take anything away from anyone but gives something important to many. It also shows that our society is caring and respectful towards each other. I am proud of Estonia."

Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) said that marriage equality will make Estonia a more inclusive and considerate place. "I am genuinely very grateful for the patience and understanding the LGBT+ community has shown for all these years," she said. "Guaranteeing equal rights for all is such an elementary thing that this issue was essentially covered in the discussions that took place in the years immediately after we regained our independence. I am delighted that the decision has now been taken for a more forward-looking Estonia that cares for all."

The result of the vote on the amendment of the Family Law Act in the Riigikogu on 20 June 2023. Source: ERR

The Reform faction members who voted for it are Annely Akkermann, Yoko Alender, Anti Haugas, Mario Kadastik, Siim Kallas, Erkki Keldo, Liina Kersna, Signe Kivi, Toomas Kivimägi, Mait Klaassen, Eerik-Niiles Kross, Urmas Kruuse, Katrin Kuusemäe, Ants Laaneots, Hanah Lahe, Maris Lauri, Eero Merilind, Marko Mihkelson, Pärtel-Peeter Pere, Õnne Pillak, Mati Raidma, Valdo Randpere, Maido Ruusmann, Luisa Rõivas, Andrus Seeme, Pipi-Liis Siemann, Timo Suslov, Margit Sutrop, Andres Sutt, Urve Tiidus, Kristo Enn Vaga and Kristina Šmigun-Vähi. The Eesti 200 faction members who voted for it are Lauri Hussar, Züleyxa Izmailova, Irja Lutsar, Liisa-Ly Pakosta, Juku-Kalle Raid, Marek Reinaas, Kalev Stoicescu, Kadri Tali, Peeter Tali, Tarmo Tamm, Igor Taro, Tanel Tein, Hendrik Johannes Terras and Toomas UIbo. The SDE faction members who voted for it are Anti Allas, Raimond Kaljulaid, Helmen Kütt, Priit Lomp, Tiit Maran, Eduard Odinets, Jevgeni Ossinovski, Heljo Pikhof and Reili Rand.

The EKRE faction members who voted against it are Arvo Aller, Ants Frosch, Kalle Grünthal, Helle-Moonika Helme, Mart Helme, Kert Kingo, Rene Kokk, Leo Kunnas, Alar Laneman, Siim Pohlak, Anti Poolamets, Evelin Poolamets, Henn Põlluaas, Jaak Valge and Varro Vooglaid. The Center faction members who voted against it are Jaak Aab, Vadim Belobrovtsev, Enn Eesmaa, Maria Jufereva-Skuratovski, Jaanus Karilaid, Ester Karuse, Tanel Kiik, Anastassia Kovalenko-Kõlvart, Tõnis Mölder, Jüri Ratas and Aleksandr Tšaplõgin. The Isamaa faction members who voted against it are Aivar Kokk, Tõnis Lukas, Mart Maastik, Andres Metsoja, Urmas Reinsalu, Helir-Valdor Seeder, Priit Sibul and Riina Solman.

Aivar Sõerd, member of the Reform faction, abstained.

Absent from the vote were Rain Epler (EKRE) and Martin Helme (EKRE), Andre Hanimägi (Center), Aleksei Jevgrafov (Center), Andrei Korobeinik (Center), Kersti Sarapuu (Center), Lauri Laats (Center), Karmen Joller (Reform), Meelis Kiili (Reform), Jürgen Ligi (Reform) ja Vilja Toomas (Reform).


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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