Latvia races to be last in LGBT equality among the Baltics

The Latvian parliament or Saeima voted 47 to 25 to move ahead with a proposal by the right-of-center National Alliance (NA) amending the Latvian Constitution to exclude same-sex couples from the definition of a family as protected by Latvia’s basic law.

The vote merely sent the proposal to a string of parliamentary committees and to become a constitutional amendment, it must be presented, debated and voted in three plenary session readings and passed with a two-thirds majority of the 100-member Saeima

The proposal by the NA, a member of the five party coalition under Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, came in apparent response to a ruling by Latvia’s Constitutional Court last November allowing one partner in a same-sex couple to receive a “paternal” benefit paid to males when their partner gives birth to a child.

Lawyer wins “paternal” leave as same-sex partner to child’s mother

Evita Goša, a lawyer, successfully brought her case before Latvia’s highest court in a landmark ruling that said the Latvian Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection under the law and protection of families also applied to same sex partnerships with children. She shares raising two children with her female partner

The ruling acknowledged that the Constitution in Article 110, as amended in 2005, specified that marriage could only be between a man and a woman, but extended the concept of family to include same sex relationships that were “a social reality” in the Baltic country of almost two million.

The NA and other conservative and some religious groups in Latvia saw the court ruling as breaking down traditional concepts of the family and exceeding the powers of the judiciary to overrule lawmakers. The nationalists’ amendment speaks of “the right to grow up in a family based on mother (woman) and father (man).” seen as specifically and deliberately excluding same-sex couples from the definition of a family.

Such an amendment could also open a path to take away or restrict the equal parental rights of same-sex partners raising children. It could be argued that having same-sex parents was a violation of the constitutional rights of a child (whose biological parents, even if one is an anonymous sperm donor, are of the opposite sex).

Janis Iesalnieks, an NA parliamentarian and one of the sponsors of the changes said that the Constitutional Court in its decision on paternal benefits had exceeded the court’s authority and that the NA sought to affirm “the socially generally accepted model of the family.”

LGBT rights groups and liberal political parties hailed the court decision and strongly opposed further amending the Constitution.

Pushing the amendment — a breach of Latvia’s coalition deal?

Marija Golubeva, the chairperson of the liberal For Development/For (AP) faction in the parliament said the proposed amendment is an effort to divide families into “right” and “wrong” and is a call for discrimination. The liberal AP, like the right-wing NA, is part of the five-party coalition around Kariņš. Political commentators note that the government’s coalition agreement states that constitutional amendments can be proposed only by consensus of all the coalition parties and the NA has broken this agreement.

The NA proposal has been heatedly debated on social media and condemned by LGBT rights groups in the Baltic country of almost two million. With public gatherings severely restricted during the pandemic, a youth protest group favoring LGBT rights posted photos on internet forums of groups of snowmen representing different family models.

The parliamentary debate came as LGBT rights activists and other continued to push for a civil partnership law that the parliament has rejected several times, the latest time last October that would grant legal protections to all unmarried couples, regardless of gender. Unless it moves ahead with some form of gender-neutral civil partnership law, Latvia, already low ranked for respecting LGBT rights, will fall behind both of its Baltic neighbors. Estonia allowed same and opposite sex civil partnerships or kooseluleping in 2016. Reuters reported in December that Lithuania looks set to legalize same-sex civil partnerships in 2021, but gay marriage could be up to a decade away, citing the country’s only openly LGBT+ lawmaker — elected this year after appearing on the campaign trail in full drag.

The rejected Latvian law would be similar to Sweden’s Sambolagen (Cohabitation Law) passed in 2003, which has a focus on property rights. Same sex marriage was “legalized” in Sweden in 2009, when the law defining marriage was made gender neutral.

A freelance journalist based in Riga, Latvia who has covered the country and region for 20 years. Speak native Latvian and English, fluent Swedish and German.

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