Latvian Saeima adopts partnership law

On November 9, the Saeima adopted amendments to eight laws envisaging the introduction of a new Partnership institution in Latvia – a new way to legally strengthen relations between two adults, including same-sex couples, and provide social and economic protection for them. Amendments to the laws are expected to come into force on July 1, 2024.

Saeima's votes on amendments to eight laws show that on average 35-40 deputies were against them – all political forces in opposition.

This package of laws was adopted by the Saeima three years after the judgment of the Constitutional Court (ST), which emphasizes the state's duty to protect the families of same-sex partners.

So far, several attempts to legally strengthen the cohabitation of unmarried couples have failed. The main objections relate to the fact that such rights would also apply to same-sex couples. In 24 years, this is the ninth time that the framework of the partnership is on the agenda of the Saeima.

However, the "Dzīvesbiedri" (Life Partners) movement and lawyers have previously stated that the regulation of partnerships does not address all problems, such as property relations or children's rights, so same-sex couples will continue to turn to courts.

The opposition announced even before considering amendments to all laws that it would ask the President not to announce the laws so it could collect signatures to start a referendum.

Linda Matisone, spokeswoman for the United List, said in the debate that MPs would exercise the right to ask the President to suspend the laws and thanked all members of the United List, National Alliance, and Latvia First for responding to the idea. These three factions have 35 votes in the Saeima.

If at least 34 members ask the President not to announce the law, the President must pause it. Then, within two months, signatures will be able to be collected for passing these laws to a referendum. At least 154,241 eligible people must sign up to hold a referendum (10% of the total number of registered voters in the country).

If the referendum takes place, the law may be repealed if at least half of the number of voters who participated in the last Saeima elections participate in it and the majority vote to repeal the law. 916,368 voters participated in the Saeima elections, turnout of around 60%.

If the signatures of a tenth of voters have not been collected within two months regarding the handing over of the law for the referendum, then after that time the law shall be declared and come into force.

The partnership regulations stipulate that two adults who have close, personal relationships and share a household and intend to care for it and care for and support each other will be able to enter into a partnership by a notarial agreement.

People who are married, relatives, siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings will not be able to form a partnership, amendments to the law stipulate.

The details of the establishment and termination of the partnership will be entered in the Register of natural persons.

After the partnership has been established, the partner will have the right to take decisions related to the treatment of the other partner if he or she is not able to take care of himself or freely express his or her will, as well as receive information regarding the partner from medical treatment institutions. The changes will also allow partners to obtain social guarantees.

Partnership is not meant to replace or equate to marriage.

While the law states that the partnership does not equate to marriage, opposition MPs repeatedly called the regulation a surrogate, a “marriage plagiarism,” a “rendition of marriage,” a “marriage clone” and an attempt to circumvent the Constitution's stipulation that marriage is a Union between a man and a woman, as well as a first step toward allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.

Opposition MPs stressed that the regulation was aimed specifically at legalizing same-sex relationships.

Deputy Linda Liepiņa (Latvia First) called on those who intend to “support this Frankenstein” not to think “that there are people out there who don't understand what this vote is about, people aren't idiots.”

Meanwhile, Latvia First leader Ainārs Šlesers called not only for a referendum on the framework of the partnership, but also urged the dismissal of this Saeima, but deputy Aleksejs Rosļikovs (For Stability!) started discussing the Istanbul Convention and other unrelated issues, on which the microphone was turned off and a reprimand was issued.

The opposition also criticized the urgent review of amendments to the laws, to which the head of the Saeima Legal Affairs Committee Andrejs Judins of New Unity pointed out that urgency does not mean rush – there have been two readings, a draft has been submitted, proposals have been discussed.

“The partnership can also be registered now, can go to a notary and register, the problem is that third parties can't find out about it and they can't check it, so we're making a frame in fact. If there is clarity and order here, who is harmed? Nobody. We're dealing with some potential risks, what are those risks if two people who are now actually in a relationship also have legal guarantees? Who's suffering from this? I see no one,” Judins told Latvian Radio.

Jānis Dombrava of the National Alliance questioned whether the partnership law might be used as a back door for immigration, conjuring up a fictional figure he dubbed Hasan from Afghanistan. 

"Imagine that there is a refugee in Latvia named Hasan, I don't know, an Afghan citizen, who has all the legal grounds to stay in Latvia, and he will come up with a business – he will register a partnership. He'll register a partnership with one person and then use this family reunification intention to legalize that person in the European Union. Well, after some short time, he will terminate this partnership, register the next partnership. I don't know if it is... well, this... the new coalition... Mrs. Silinas emphasized very much that she wants immigrants to improve Latvia's demography. Is this of the methods or not? Answers have not actually been obtained," said Dombrava.

His fears were addressed by Judins, who explained: "We are not amending the Immigration Act... if the partnership is not mentioned in the Immigration Law, then the amendments that we are voting on today do not apply to immigration issues, to the possibility of obtaining a residence permit or any other status, because it has no legal meaning in the law, where there are no such concepts."

Nevertheless, the tenor of the debate suggested that if the partnership law does make it to a referendum, there is a strong possibility immigration will be roped in as a factor.

As was extensively reported by international media, earlier this year Estonia legalized same-sex marriage – a significantly more far-reaching step than Latvia's partnership arrangement. 

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