LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Will Latvia fall out of being in last place?

civil partnership
rainbow families

Kaspars Zalitis is the board member of Association of LGBT and their friends MOZAIKA and former Co-Chair of Baltic Pride 2018 and EuroPride 2015.

According to ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Map, for the past couple of years, Latvia has been in last place in the European Union when it comes to the legal and policy protections for LGBT+ people. Despite significant progress in societal acceptance of the LGBT+ community, Latvian politicians have remained highly conservative and continued to send a clear message that LGBT+ citizens are considered "second class". There were no signs that anything will change in this regard.

That changed on the morning of October 6, the day after Latvia’s parliamentary elections, which brought hopeful news of a significant increase in politicians supportive of human rights and equality being just around the corner. Later Mozaika was pleased to see that two of the newly elected Members of Parliament were openly LGBT politicians; one of them the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and the other a present member of the Presidium.

A time of change had indeed come.

Within a month, on 29 October 2018, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Latvia issued an Opinion providing a strong analysis of an individual's submission regarding possible discrimination based on sexual orientation, and calling on the Ministry of Justice and the Saeima (parliament) of the Republic of Latvia to introduce a framework for the recognition and protection of same-sex families and to review the create a common understanding of the concept and protection of the family in regulatory frameworks.

The submission which led to the opinion highlights that Latvia does not have a legal framework recognising cohabitation of two individuals, and the Civil Code directly prohibits marriage between persons of the same sex. Consequently, the only way option is for same-sex partners is to conclude multiple relationships regulating contracts, such as power of attorney, or inheritance agreement in which the state fee payable when inheriting immovable property in this way, for people who are not the legal spouse or 1st to 4th degree relative of the deceased, is 60 times higher than for spouses or direct relatives, thus clearly constituting discrimination against same-sex couples who do not have the legal option of getting married.  

In his response the Ombudsman of Latvia provides an analysis of Article 110 of the Constitution of Latvia (Satversme) which states that "the state protects and supports marriage - the union between a man and a woman, the family, the rights of parents and the child". The Ombudsman points out that in this case, two of the terms noted above - "marriage" and "family" - are important. By referring to ECHR judgements, he concludes that while marriage can be defined as a union between a man and a woman, marriage cannot be the only foundation of a family. He explicitly states that same-sex partners also constitute a family, and draws his opinion to a close with unquestionably the most progressive recommendations which the Ombudsman’s office has issued since the establishment of the institution, and a timeframe in which he expects as response on progress towards meeting his recommendations from the Ministry of Justice and the Parliament.

“The Ombudsman, in accordance with Article 25, Paragraphs one and three of the Ombudsman Law, completes inspection case No. 2018-38-26G with the following recommendations:

 [1] to fulfil the positive obligation of the state to provide a legal framework for the recognition of different family models in accordance with the latest ECHR findings and Article 110 of the Satversme;

[2] review the regulatory framework, creating a common understanding of the concept and protection of the family;

[3] to amend Section 12 of Regulation 1250, providing for the recognition of various family models.”

This opinion is a game-changer. These recommendations are essential for restarting the discussion on adoption of inclusive partnership legislation which would provide rights also to couples who are not married or cannot get married. This is a debate which has been frozen after the parliament recently rejected the previous version – the third to be brought to Parliament - of a proposed Cohabitation Law.

The year 2018 has brought a significant change in Latvia showing that often after great stagnation, progress can happen fast. After tireless work of the Association of LGBT and their friends MOZAIKA (the only LGBT organisation in Latvia) Riga hosted the biggest Pride celebration in the post-Soviet area. Baltic Pride 2018 march in Riga gathered over 8000 participants, a mere decade after violent attacks against small groups of marchers. The Pride itself took place over 100 days and included 100 events, coinciding with the Centenary of the independence of the Republic of Latvia.

Thus far society has been speeding ahead of the political elite. This opinion marks a change of the tide. This is a historic moment for Latvia, the momentum Latvian LGBT community have been waiting for for a long time. We ask you to keep an eye on Latvia in the coming months. Hopefully (fingers crossed) Latvia will move out of being the last country in the European Union when it comes to legal and policy protections for the human rights of LGBT+ people and will become more inclusive and, possibly, even a great example to the other countries in our region.