Estonia blazes same-sex cohabitation trail

Latvia's northern neighbor Estonia became the first state in Eastern Europe to give legal status to same-sex cohabitation on Thursday following three days of intense parliamentary debate in the Riigikogu.

The third and final reading of the Cohabitation Bill squeezed home by 40 votes to 38 with 10 abstentions and 13 MPs not registering for the vote.

The Bill gives the persons living in non-marital cohabitation the right to register their civil relationship and regulate their mutual legal relations as well as their legal relations with third persons.

The scope of application of the Bill covers the procedure for entering into a cohabitation agreement, the rights and responsibilities of registered civil partners, and the bases for terminating the cohabitation agreement which will be certified by a notary and registered.

The Bill did not have to wait long to be approved by Presdient Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who tweeted Thursday afternoon he had already signed it.

The legislation will come into force on January 1, 2016.

Last-minute attempts to force a referendum on the matter of same-sex cohabitation failed despite large-scale protests against the legislation mainly from conservative Christian groups.

No similar legislation has been proposed for the Latvian parliament, though Estonia's example is likely to provide hope to local gay rights campaigners that similar legal amendments need not be impossible.

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