Latvia has passed legislation which will grant cohabiting adults, including same-sex partnerships, a degree of legal recognition and protection, public broadcaster LSM reports.
The legislative amendment, if it enters into force, will not be as far-reaching as the legalization of same-sex marriage which took place in Estonia in mid-summer, but can be equated more closely to the Registered Partnership Act which had existed in Estonia up to that point.
Opposition MPs have pledged to start the process to suspend presidential assent to the legislation and to follow that by a referendum.
On Thursday this week, the Saeima, the Latvian parliament, adopted amendments to a total of eight laws, envisaging the introduction of a new partnership institution in Latvia, LSM reports on its English-language page.
The legislation will strengthen relations between two adults who are cohabiting, regardless of their gender, so far as legal status and social and economic protection goes.
Its adoption follows a ruling three years ago by Latvia's Constitutional Court (ST), which emphasizes the state's duty to protect the families of same-sex partners.
The legislation's stated aims are not to replace traditional marriage or to equate the partnerships to it, though between 35 and 40 opposition MPs voted against the eight rafts of amendments, with many of them arguing that the amendments are aimed specifically at legalizing same-sex relationships, and the legalization of the adoption of children by same-sex couples.
LSM reports that the Latvian Constitution states that a marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
One MP from the national-conservative National Alliance party questioned whether the new law might get used as a "back door" for immigration, referring in his argumentation to a "Hasan from Afghanistan," a fictional character, LSM reports; the chair of the Saeima Legal Affairs Committee, from the coalition New Unity party, rejected this claim.
Leader of the right-wing populist Latvia First party meanwhile called not only for a marriage referendum but also for the dissolution of parliament.
The new legislation stipulates that two adults who enjoy close, personal relationships, share a household with the intention of continuing to do so, and to care for and support each other, will be able to enter into a partnership by notary agreement.
As might be expected, the legislation contains consanguinity clauses and bars partnerships along these lines.
The amendments are due to come into force on July 1 next year.
This represents the ninth time the matter has been put before the Saeima, LSM reports.
Some opposition MPs say they will exercise a right to request the head of state to suspend the legislation while a petition is held calling for a referendum on the matter;
This request to the Latvian president must be issued by 34 or more MPs; the three opposition parties whose members have opposed to legislation together have 35 seats.
If this petition garners enough signatures within a set period of time, a referendum will follow, again with stipulations on what would make the referendum result binding, if it involved repealing the law.
Estonia's Registered Partnership Act, sometimes known as the Cohabitation Act, passed in 2014 but the issue was fudged over technicalities. In the event, the jump was made to full same-sex marriage legalization, which passed on June 20 and comes into effect on January 1 next year.
Unlike Latvia's Constitution, the Estonian Constitution does not state that a marriage must be between one man and one woman, though the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in late 2020 attempted to have a constitutional amendment to that end put into place.
Editor: Andrew Whyte