Married abroad, strangers here: same-sex couple issues in Latvia

Take note – story published 2 years ago

Latvia remains one of the only European countries which does not legally support same-sex partnership. Constitutional Court said this autumn that the State must protect all families, including same-sex. Will this change attitudes towards homosexual couples? Latvian Radio investigative broadcast Atvērtie faili explored the subject.

Every year the international LGBTI+ rights protection organization ILGA-Europe evaluates the situation on sexual minority rights in European countries. Latvia currently takes the second-to-last position, only one percentage point higher than Poland which comes last.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in thirteen Member States. Eight have a partnership regulation. 

Only six countries remain where same-sex couples have no possibility to register their cohabitation: Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Same-sex marriages are invalidated in Latvia

"I just want to live happily," five years ago psychologist, teacher and  leadership tutor Jolanta Cihanoviča wrote on her Facebook five years ago. At that point, she had decided to leave Latvia.

Jolanta had married her female partner in Denmark. Her partner, who was a third-country citizen, needed a residence permit in Latvia, but she could not get on the grounds of marriage. Other options included getting a study permit, live for five years, then apply for citizenship. She did not need another education, though.

Jolanta and her spouse came to the choice - continue to search for options to live together in Latvia or go somewhere they are considered family.

"Really want to live in a country where I am respected, where we don't have to play games - yes, you have lived together for more than 10 years, but it's not a serious marriage. Serious marriage is when your genitalia is this and that. That's what our country respects. If your genitalia is not matched correctly, then no, your marriage doesn't count. I think that is perverse reasoning," said Jolanta.

The Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs reports that residence permits are granted to a same-sex partner only if the Latvian citizen has officially lived in a European Union country for a minimum of three months and has entered into a marriage with a third-country national during that time. Residence permits in our country can also be obtained by same-sex partners of citizens of other countries of the European Union.

However, if you are a citizen of Latvia and live in Latvia, the partner shall not be entitled to a residence permit.

This illogical arrangement has been established since Latvia entered the European Union and took over the directive on the free movement of nationals of the Member States and their family members.

How many people have actually left because Latvia does not recognize same-sex partnership is unknown. But sexual minority organizations know dozens.

Saeima has free reign over same-sex partnerships

Until now, the Latvian legislator has repeatedly rejected proposals on partnership regulation The Saeima will have to decide again on the legal framework for same-sex couples. This task has been given by the Constitutional Court. But will anything have changed?

In mid-November, the Constitutional Court recognized as unconstitutional the provision of the labor law, which gives the right to parental leave only to a child's father, not to the mother's partner.

The Court also said more broadly that the State has an obligation to protect all, including same-sex, families. Politicians will now have to agree on how to comply with the court's decision: to change the specific provision of the labor law, to make changes to a number of laws, or to create a new law on cohabitation.

“At the moment, the Saeima has absolutely free reign to arrange it the way they think it is right. “If this is not done, I can tell you that there will be more applications in the Constitutional Court,” Sanita Osipova, the President of the Constitutional Court, said on Latvian Radio.

MPs still cautious

The last time the Saeima decided against registration of same-sex couples was in October. It was an initiative submitted by the public and rejected by a majority of MPs. The debate was accompanied by pickets.

Explicit support for legalization of same-sex couple partnership is expressed only by New Unity and Development/For! factions. Other coalition partners from the National Alliance, the New Conservative Party and KPV LV have always objected.

Whether this parliamentary term will find the solution that would comply with the Constitutional Court decision and be acceptable to the conservative wing is not clear at the moment.

The decision of the Constitutional Court has both given hope to supporters of this initiative and caused backlash from more conservative organizations. For example, on  Facebook, Jānis Biķis, who claims himself an architect and father of four children, has submitted  an initiative on “Reinforcing the Protection of a Natural Family in the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia”.

“What I call for is in no way to prevent a natural, traditional, normal family between a man and a woman from being redefined, expanded, you know, I don't even want to talk about it,” Jānis says in the call. The initiative was not approved on the portal.

Meanwhile, for others, the ruling of the Constitutional Court has given hope. Jolanta Cihanoviča is also delighted, who has even discussed the possibility of returning to Latvia with her partner. The answer, however, was “No.” Jolanta is tired of fighting for her rights.

“I thought it was funny that we were so close with Sweden, in general with Scandinavian countries, so many Latvians have travelled everywhere and done everything, why do we think this way? Do people think anyone will benefit from someone pretending or feeling discriminated against?

I've had people writing letters to me at work, writing letters with descriptions what they will do with me if I meet them somewhere on the street, such things, it's not pleasant … and, yes, at some point, I was relieved that it was not happening anymore, and I don't want to see it again …” said Jolanta.


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