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Estonia becomes first central European country to allow same-sex marriage

Estonia becomes first central European country to allow same-sex marriage
Participants of the Tallinn Pride 2006 parade march through the Old city of Tallinn, Estonia, Saturday 12 August 2006. EPA/Valda Kalnina

TALLINN, June 20 (Reuters) - Estonia's parliament approved on Tuesday a law to legalise same-sex marriage, making it the first central European country to do so.

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.

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.

The bill received 55 votes in the 101-seat parliament, from the coalition of liberal and social democratic parties which Kallas has assembled following her strong win in the 2023 election.

The law will come into effect from 2024.

In the largely secular Baltic country of 1.3 million, 53% of the population supported same-sex marriage in a 2023 poll by the Centre for Human Rights. A decade ago the number was 34%.

However, 38% of Estonians still consider homosexuality to be unacceptable. Same-sex marriage is opposed by the ethnic-Russian minority, which constitutes a quarter of the country, with only 40% of them supporting it.

Gay people in Estonia tend to remain discreet about their identity, and half have experienced harassment recently, according to government.

“This was a good opportunity for the government, because the public opinion on same-sex marriage has turned to positive, and after this year’s election it has the numbers to overcome the conservative opposition,” said Tomas Jermalavicius, Head of Studies at the International Centre for Defence and Security.

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

By Janis Laizans and Andrius Sytas

(Reporting by Janis Laizans in Tallinn and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, editing by Terje Solsvik and Ed Osmond)

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