Latvia’s Constitutional Court on April 9 issued a ruling on inheritance rights that will put more pressure on the Baltic country’s lawmakers to legalize civil partnerships for both same sex and opposite-sex couples and to thereby recognize same sex families.
The ruling declared unconstitutional and discriminatory higher fees charged for registering real property (buildings, land and residences) granted by bequest (in a will) to a same-sex partner or unmarried opposite sex partner. Spouses and certain categories of legal heirs (children, siblings and other relatives entitled to inherit by law) are charged far less for registering real estate they inherit.
It is the second ruling in six months by the Constitutional Court that addressed the issue of whether same-sex families can enjoy at least some equal rights with families based on marriage and underscores that efforts to pass a civil partnership law for both opposite and same-sex partners have been stalled in the Latvian parliament or Saeima for years. The last effort to pass such a law, based on a citizens’ initiative that gathered more than 10 000 signatures in around a week, was dismissed by a parliamentary committee.
The Latvian Constitutional Court's portrait on its home page
Unlike the earlier ruling late last year involving parental leave rights for one partner in a same sex relationship where one of the female partners sued for “fatherhood leave” under Latvian law after her partner gave birth, the issue of equal treatment under inheritance rules was raised by Latvia’s Ombudsman Juris Jansons. It applies to cases where one of the same sex or unmarried opposite sex partners has died.
Conservatives in Latvia will see the Constitutional Court, whose rulings cannot be appealed, as yet again bending Article 110 of the Latvian Constitution which states that “the State shall protect and support marriage — a union between a man and a woman, the family, the rights of parents and rights of the child.”
Conservatives pressed to amend the Constitution
Article 110 was amended in 2005 under pressure from religious and conservative groups in Latvia to specifically define marriage as between a man and a woman in response to efforts to legalize same sex relationships elsewhere in Europe However, in two separate rulings, Latvia’s Constitutional Court has said that the equal protection under the law guarantee of the Latvian constitution surpass the narrow definition of marriage and applies to actual families, including same-sex and cohabiting opposite sex couples.
The National Alliance, a right of center party that is part of Latvia’s five-party coalition government under US-born Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, introduced a bill to again amend Latvia’s constitution to exclude same-sex partners and their children from the definition of a family after last year’s Constitutional Court ruling on paternal leave
Kristine Garina, the chairperson of Latvia’s LGBT rights advocacy group Mozaika told EFE that the problems addressed by both Constitutional Court rulings could be largely solved by passing a gender-neutral civil partnership law.
“The latest ruling is a victory for same-sex and other non-married couples, but it is only a half-way victory. There is a long struggle ahead,” she said. The Mozaika chairperson said she had often attended parliamentary committee hearings together with conservative religious representatives opposed to same-sex partnerships.
“I tell the Catholic representatives that Catholic Spain recognized same-sex families and they say that ‘it is not the real Catholic Church there’,” Garina said.
The rejection last October by the Saeima of a proposed law that would effectively legalize and protect same-sex relationships as well as fix the rights and responsibilities of unmarried heterosexual couples living as a household was the sixth time the issue has been brought up and dismissed the Saeima since 1999.
Evita Gosa, a lawyer and the plaintiff in the paternal leave case from last year wrote on her Facebook page “Years ago, Western human rights activists and experts said that in the countries behind the Iron Curtain, the first steps in ensuring LGBT equality would be taken by the courts. We are experiencing it. We started with freedom of assembly and continue with the protection of families.”