Ministry says name law amends discriminate against same-sex families

Newborn. Photo is illustrative.
Newborn. Photo is illustrative. Source: Peeter Langovits/Eesti Meedia/SCANPIX

The Ministry of Social Affairs says that draft legislation aimed at amending the Names Act 2004 overlooks the rights of same-sex couples and their families.

The bill fails to take into consideration the interests of same-sex couples and children being raised in such settings, in the ministry's opinion, and also fails to take into account the Registered Partnership Act 2014 and the rights of those couples that have concluded a registered partnership contract within its purview, spokespersons for the ministry told BNS.

The social affairs ministry said that, specifically, the bill would eliminate opportunities surrounding several exceptions arising from family relationships and relationships by marriage, including in the case of adoption and still birth, as well as for same-sex couples.

The ministry's position is that each person should have the right to decide on their own identity, including their name, themselves, BNS reports, and an individual's desire to change their name is a sufficient reason on its own to allow such changes to be made.

Cases of names commonly used as both male and female first names was given as an example. Such first names include Keit and Kert, which are widely held to be both male and female first names in Estonia.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has thus requested amends to the draft legislation throughout, bearing in mind the possible outcomes also arising from the Registered Partnership Act 2014 when amending the Names Act 2004, and taking into consideration the families of same-sex couples and their children.

The ministry thus favored a negative list of those scenarios where name changes would not be allowed, rather than the current positive approach of those where it would be permissible, which it says is more restrictive.

"As a result, in our opinion, a list should be set out in the law setting out those cases where the state has a valid reason to restrict a name change. The state should not impose a list of cases in which a person has the right to change their name and then this is permitted," the ministry said, according to BNS.

"Consideration should also be given that that gender of children is not always unambiguously identifiable at birth, which means that by allowing only those names that clearly refer to gender, one fails to take into consideration those individuals who do not fit into such gender norms. We find that no additional burden should be created by the state, for both itself and the individual, where obligations are added in the form of certificates, reasoning and the filing of applications, while simultaneously putting an obligation on the state to consider the whole body of documents and arguments submitted. Placing such obligations on both sides requires in-depth deliberation, and must be grounded and serve a substantial public interest," the ministry finds. 

Gender equality, adoption, stillbirth

According to the ministry, the aspect of gender equality should also be considered in amending the Names Act 2004 when examining how the changes set forth in the bill may affect men and women differently, and whether the bill is consistent with the principle of promoting gender equality.

The ministry also highlighted a problem it says could arise with adopted children and their adoptive parents. In cases where older children are adopted, which the ministry says has happened in Estonia, their can be issues if the child and others have become accustomed to their existing name and thus forcing a change might be problematic.

"Understandably, changing a name may be justified in the interests of integration, such as when a child with a Russian-sounding name is adopted into a native Estonian-speaking family, or vice versa, yet it should not be the result simply of the adoptive parents' wishes, particularly if this may run counter to the interests of the child. Thus changing a child's name in the event of adoption must be sufficiently reasoned and considered," the ministry stated. 

Bestowing a name on a stillborn child should also be permitted, the ministry said.

"We understand that, while this may not necessarily have a binding legal meaning and is an unofficial procedure, it may be a very important desire and consolation for the family in the event of such a tragic event," it said, adding that even though the personal data of a stillborn child is not entered into the population register, a stillbirth is nonetheless registered in the medical register of births, where a given name might be recorded.

The current Minister of Social Affairs is Tanel Kiik (Centre).

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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