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Estonia votes to legalize same-sex marriage, a first among ex-Soviet states

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Estonia’s parliament approved a bill on Tuesday allowing same-sex marriage. The initiative was supported by 55 MPs in the 101-seat parliament, while 34 MPs ruled against adopting the bill. The law will enter into force on January 1, 2024.

The newly-passed legislation makes Estonia the first country in the former Soviet Union to allow same-sex marriages. Since 2016, same-sex couples in Estonia could enter into a cohabitation agreement, but were not allowed to legally marry.

“My message (to central Europe) is that it's a difficult fight, but marriage and love is something that you have to promote,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told Reuters after the vote.
“We have developed a lot in those 30 years, since we have freed ourselves from the (Soviet) occupation. We are equals among same-value countries,” she added.

Same-sex marriage is legal in much of western Europe, but not in central European countries, which were once under communist rule and members of the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact alliance but now members of NATO and, largely, the EU.

Latvia and Lithuania – the other two Baltic countries which were previously annexed by the Soviet Union – currently have same-sex partnership bills stuck in their parliaments.

A month ago, Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvia’s former foreign minister, became president of Latvia. The election made Rinkēvičs the EU’s first openly gay head of state.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Latvia face social challenges not experienced by non-LGBTQ+ residents. There are currently no forms of gay marriage in Latvia, as same-sex marriages are officially banned by the country's constitution.

In 2023, advocacy group ILGA-Europe ranked Estonia 17th out of 27 European Union countries for the protection of LGBTQ+ rights. Latvia and Lithuania were ranked 24th and 23rd respectively.

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