In Estonia, supporting Ukraine isn’t controversial… but same-sex marriage is – POLITICO

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Over the past year, Kaja Kallas has forged an image as a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia. The next battleground for the Estonian leader is closer to home…same-sex marriage.

Currently non-existent in former Soviet nations, same-sex marriage has emerged as one of the key issues in coalition talks led by Kallas, the Estonian prime minister whose party won the most votes in elections in early March.

For the Liberals, this could be their best shot at enshrining same-sex marriage in law. Although the Registered Partnership Act 2014 granted some limited rights to gay and lesbian couples, it was never implemented as there was still a conservative party in government blocking its passage.

This time, with Kallas inviting two liberal parties into the coalition, Estonia could be on course to become the first Baltic to allow same-sex marriage.

“For almost a decade, there has been little or no progress with regard to the rights of same-sex couples in Estonia,” Lauri Läänemets, interior minister and president of the country, told POLITICO. Estonian Social Democratic Party. “(Now) all three parties engaged in the coalition talks are liberal-progressive and two of them…support both passing the laws implementing registered partnership, but also supporting same-sex marriage.”

This sentiment is shared by Estonia 200 (Eesti 200), a group formed in 2018 and the smaller of the two potential junior parties in the coalition.

“Any time is a good time to stand up for minority rights,” said Liisa Pakosta, who won a seat in parliament for Estonia 200 in elections this month.

Pakosta, however, acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue.

“The likelihood of the topic being included in the final coalition platform is uncertain at this time. The Eesti 200 party is committed to achieving marriage equality in the coalition platform. However, if the opposition is too strong from its partners, the party will explore all possibilities to realize its ambitious and innovative program as a whole.

Some of that opposition comes from Kallas’ own Estonian Reform Party, which holds 36 of the 101 seats in parliament. While progressive city dwellers — as well as Kallas herself — agree with marriage equality, some rural lawmakers fear a potential backlash if same-sex marriage becomes a party priority.

“The subject of same-sex marriage has not yet come up in the coalition talks. It will probably be discussed over the next week,” Reform Party communications director Kajar Kase told POLITICO.

For now, Kallas’ party would only commit to supporting initiatives to implement civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Estonia legalized civil partnerships for all couples in 2014, but parliament was unable to pass legislation to enforce it.

“Experience in other countries has shown that after same-sex marriage legislation is passed, public support for it will start to grow quite rapidly,” said Läänemets, interior minister. “If Kaja Kallas were able to persuade her party to also support a possibly more ambitious agenda for same-sex marriage rights, it could be a historic decision not just for Estonia, but for the wider region.”


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