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Estonia legalizes same-sex marriage

A Step Toward Greater Equality in the Baltics

Annual gay pride parade in Tallinn, Estonia, July 8, 2017.  © 2017 yegorovnick/Shutterstock

In a significant step toward greater equality, Estonia’s parliament voted Tuesday in favor of new legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, making it the first Baltic country to do so.

The bill expands existing partnership recognition in Estonia by amending the 2016 Family Law Act, which allowed for same-sex civil unions and recognized same-sex marriages performed abroad. Under the new legislation, which will come into force on January 1, 2024, same-sex couples will also have the option to marry and adopt children.

The bill was approved on Tuesday, June 20 in a 55-34 decision within the 101-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, leader of the center-right Reform Party, successfully created a liberal-oriented coalition to cement a parliamentary majority with the centrist Estonia 200 Party and Social Democrat Party earlier this year. The coalition has taken a strong pro-Ukraine, pro-European Union stance — and one that supports same-sex marriage rights.

In Estonia, support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people has gained traction, according to a recent poll conducted by the Estonian Human Rights Centre. The poll shows 53 percent of Estonians support marriage equality, up from only 34 percent in 2012.

Still, many LGBT persons in Estonia face harassment and discrimination. Comparatively, legislation recognizing same-sex partnerships in neighboring Latvia and Lithuania has not progressed.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to extend the option of marriage to same-sex couples. Today, Estonia joins 34 other countries that have already embraced marriage equality. Eleven additional countries allow civil unions for same-sex couples. Estonia has set an example for other Central European nations in extending marriage equality.

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