Re: Lithuania’s adoption of a law on civil unions
Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda,
Dear Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen,
Dear Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Ingrida Šimonytė,
Dear Minister of Economy and Innovation of the Republic of Lithuania Auršinė Armonaitė,
Dear Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis,
We write concerning the draft Law on Civil Union and legislative efforts to extend legal protections to same-sex couples in Lithuania. We urge lawmakers to extend the fullest possible protections for same-sex relationships. Our work in other countries has shown that the failure to recognize and respect committed relationships between same-sex partners jeopardizes the human rights of same-sex couples and their families, and that the creation of a civil union regime represents an opportunity for lawmakers to provide these families with critical legal protections and stability.
The lack of legal protection for same-sex couples in Lithuania puts a range of human rights at risk. The inability to have one’s relationship
recognized and respected under the law violates the right to respect for private and family life, and may constitute impermissible discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The lack of a legal framework to protect same-sex relationships and families may also interfere with other rights, such as parental rights and the right to nationality for children, and rights to property, inheritance, and social benefits. It also inflicts a significant dignitary harm on couples and families who provide each other with love and support and function like other families, but are categorically denied any recognition or protection from the state because of who they are.
While different countries have offered different forms of legal recognition to same-sex couples, many have recognized that civil unions provide a critical degree of protection and stability for committed partners and their families. In Europe, 30 of 48 United Nations member states provide some form of legal recognition to same-sex couples. In 19 European states, same-sex couples are able to marry, while 23 states have created legal frameworks for civil unions, registered partnerships, or other arrangements that are available to same-sex couples, and often to heterosexual couples as well.
These frameworks are critical to meet human rights obligations under regional and international human rights law. In a series of cases, the European Court of Human Rights has clarified that the European Convention on Human Rights requires member states to provide some degree of legal recognition to same-sex partnerships under Article 8’s protection of the right to respect for private and family life. In Oliari and Others v. Italy, the Court expressly recognized a “positive obligation to ensure that [same-sex couples] have available a specific legal framework providing for the recognition and protection of their same-sex unions.” It underscored that such a framework should “provide for the core needs relevant to a couple in a stable committed relationship,” and should be stable and predictable rather than piecemeal or ad hoc.
The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation are a set of soft-law principles that clarify how international human rights law protects the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Principles call on states to “take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure that no family may be subjected to discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity of any of its members, including with regard to family-related social welfare and other public benefits, employment, and immigration.”
The adoption of civil unions would be a significant step to ensure that the rights of all families are better protected and enjoy legal stability in Lithuania. We trust that lawmakers will work to ensure that same-sex couples are protected under the law, and to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Lithuania.
We thank you for your attention to this issue and are happy to provide any other resources or information that would be useful as lawmakers proceed with draft legislation in the days and weeks ahead.
Director, LGBT Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
 Ryan Thoreson, “South Korean Court Declines to Recognize Same-Sex Partners,” Human Rights Watch, January 10, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/10/south-korean-court-declines-recognize-same-sex-partners; Human Rights Watch, “Albanian Courts Asked to Recognize Same-Sex Partnerships,” February 8, 2017; https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/08/albanian-courts-asked-recognize-same-sex-partnerships; Human Rights Watch, “Italy: Same-Sex Civil Unions Made Possible After Vote,” May 11, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/11/italy-same-sex-civil-unions-made-possible-after-vote.
 See, e.g., Vallianatos and Others v. Greece, European Court of Human Rights, Applications Nos. 29381/09 and 32684/09, Nov. 7, 2013; Orlandi and Others v. Italy, European Court of Human Rights, Applications Nos. 26431/12, 26742/12, 44057/12, and 60088/12, Dec. 14, 2017.
 Lucas Ramon Mendos, Kellyn Botha, Rafael Carrano Lelis, Enrique López de la Peña, Ilia Savelev and Daron Tan, State Sponsored Homophobia 2020: Global Legislation Overview Update, ILGA (December 2020).
 As of 2020, the 16 European states where same-sex couples are able to marry are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Mendos et al. at 286-289. The freedom to marry has subsequently been recognized by Andorra, Slovenia, and Switzerland.
 As of 2020, the 23 European states where same-sex couples can enter into partnerships that are not marriage are Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Mendos et al. at 299-303. Other states have created these kinds of partnerships but repealed those arrangements when same-sex couples were granted the right to marry under domestic law. Ibid. at 303-304.
 See, e.g., Vallianatos and Others v. Greece, European Court of Human Rights, Applications Nos. 29381/09 and 32684/09, Nov. 7, 2013; Oliari and Others v. Italy, European Court of Human Rights, Applications Nos. 18766/11 and 36030/11, July 21, 2015; Orlandi and Others v. Italy, European Court of Human Rights, Applications Nos. 26431/12, 26742/12, 44057/12, and 60088/12, Dec. 14, 2017.
 Oliari and Others v. Italy, at para. 185.
 Oliari and Others v. Italy, at para. 172.