First ex-soviet state legalizes gay marriage

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On Monday, Estonia became the first former Soviet country to legalise gay marriage, opening marriage applications to same-sex couples with the start of the new year.

The processing of applications is estimated to take one to six months, with the first approvals expected by February 2.

In June, the Estonian parliament agreed to legalise gay marriage as an amendment to the country’s Family Law. The bill was approved by a vote of 55 to 34, a win that LGBTQ campaigners attributed to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ progressive government.

“It’s an important moment that shows Estonia is a part of Northern Europe,” said Baltic Pride project manager Keio Soomelt to The Guardian on Monday. Together with Estonia, 15 of the EU’s 27 member nations permit same-sex marriage.

Soomelt hailed the newly-amended law as “a very important message from the government that says, finally, we are as equal as other couples; that we are valuable and entitled to the same services and have the same options.”

Estonia has legally recognized civil partnerships for same-sex couples since 2013, though civil unions lacked the adoption rights and parental recognition enjoyed by married partners. Under the new law, married same-sex couples may legally adopt children and register cohabitation, which comes with government benefits and other privileges.

Gay marriage remains contentious in the Baltic state, with only 53% of Estonians approving same-sex nuptials last year, according to an Estonian Human Rights Centre poll. However, attitudes have changed dramatically just a decade ago, when only 34% approved of the practice.

Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, homosexuality was decriminalised in Estonia.

Despite the fact that neighbouring Latvia elected its first openly homosexual president, Edgars Rinkevics, last year, gay marriage remains outlawed in the country. Rinkevics blocked a bill permitting same-sex civil unions in November in response to opposition rallies, awaiting a countrywide referendum. Civil unions and same-sex marriage are both prohibited in Lithuania.

Former Deputy Culture Minister Inna Sovsun introduced legislation in parliament in March to recognise same-sex civil partnerships, believing that it would both reward the service of LGBTQ soldiers and impress Kiev’s international backers. President Vladimir Zelensky has said that constitutional reforms relating same-sex marriage cannot be implemented during wartime.