In a statement on ETV debate program "Suud puhtaks" which earned the the public dismay of Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) Urmas Viilma, Risti pastor Annika Laats defended Estonia's gender-neutral Registered Partnership Act, which is under threat of repeal.
"I am a pastor as well, and I am willing to say that I take God very seriously, and that is the reason why I am appearing on this program today, and that is the reason why over the years I have stood up for gay people — because I take God incredibly seriously, as seriously as a matter of life and death," Laats said on "Suud puhtaks" on Wednesday night, addressing Jaak Madison, a member of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia parliamentary group which recently introduced a bill to repeal the Registered Partnership Act. "And as far as I know and trust God and have placed my life in his hands, then I know him as merciful — merciful and loving, who looks upon all people, including everyone in this studio and those watching at home, and all of them are made in his image. And he wants for us to be in harmony, reconciled with him, and reconciled among ourselves. And he does not want rifts — and that is the road we are going down now.
"After [Viilma's] speech yesterday, I started thinking, what kind of people did Jesus push aside? Because for me, God became man in Jesus, and in him I recognize the will of God. What kinds of people did Jesus condemn? He condemned only those who consider themselves better than others, who consider themselves normal and right. And those who are different somehow, who are considered lesser by society, deficient somehow — to them he has offered his hand. And this is what is central to all of Christianity for me.
"And I cannot comprehend, honestly — I'm telling you wholeheartedly — for the first time I am sitting across from Jaak Madison, eye to eye, I've been looking right at you for an hour and tried to understand — why are you doing this? This is merciless! This is utterly merciless.
"I work as a pastoral counselor at Tallinn Children's Hospital. I see broken, very painful situations quite often, day in and day out — tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. I will be at work at the children's hospital again. You are causing a lot of hurt for many with what you are doing here. And not one broken heterosexual family — the problems in our homes, with our spouses — not one family relationship will be improved if you take away the right from these people to be recognized in a dignified fashion. And I am stressing that I am saying this and I am standing for this because of the Law of God, which my colleague Arne Hiob likes to emphasize, I consider his commands to love and be merciful supreme."
EELK head: Man does not have right to change definition of marriage
"I am very sorry that Annika Laats' opinions have placed the church, its clergy, other workers and members, as well as the church leadership, including myself, in a situation in which we have to explain what the EELK actually thinks about things or how it is possible that EELK clergy members do not preach in accordance with the church's teachings," Viilma posted on social media hours after the program aired on Wednesday night.
Tallinn St. John's congregation assistant pastor Arne Hiob also participated in the debate program, and according to Viilma, Hiob expressed the current views of the EELK, which is that so long as the legalization of same-sex partnerships blurs and redefines the concept of marriage, the church cannot be in favor of the Registered Partnership Act or accept the implementing provisions thereof.
Viilma noted that Laats, in addressing Madison, stated herself that her opinions differed from the views of the church.
"How a member of the EELK clergy is prepared to publicly go against their church's views is beyond me, as Annika Laats did not only represent herself on the program, but stressed the fact that she is a pastor," the archbishop added.
"The church remains of the opinion that homosexual practice, like heterosexual extramarital sexual relationships, are against the will of God, which is why it is a sin," Viilma explained. "The church is likewise of the biblical opinion that marriage is a union between only a man and a woman, as defined by God, and thus man, even if forced through the Riigikogu with a majority of votes, does not have the right to change this."
Delay of implementing acts measurable in years
While Estonia does not allow same-sex marriages, it recognizes same-sex marriages concluded elsewhere. The country's own gender-neutral Registered Partnership Act was passed on Oct. 9, 2014 — nearly three years ago — and entered into force on Jan. 1, 2016 — over a year and a half ago — however its implementing acts have yet to be adopted by the Riigikogu.
The first reading of the act's implementing provisions took place on Nov. 25, 2015, after which it was decided that discussion of the provisions would continue in the Legal Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, where the most recent discussion on the matter took place on Jan. 21, 2016.
EKRE has recently introduced a bill to repeal the Registered Partnership Act to the Riigikogu, where it is scheduled to reach its first reading sometime next week.
Editor: Aili Vahtla