By Andrius Sytas and Janis Laizans
RIGA (Reuters) – Latvia’s parliament on Thursday voted to allow same-sex couples to establish civil unions, providing them with legal recognition but fewer rights than married couples.
Homosexuality remains a divisive topic in Latvia, whose legislators in 2005 changed the constitution to define marriage as only allowed between a man and a woman.
The new legislation, which is due to come into force in the middle of next year, allows same-sex couples to register their partnership with a notary.
It allows partners in such a union hospital visiting rights, as well as some tax and social security benefits.
But Kaspars Zalitis, a gay rights activist, noted same-sex couples would still not be able to adopt children and would continue to face inheritance issues.
“This is a great beginning… Latvia is not one of the six countries in the European Union that have no recognition for same-sex couples,” he told Reuters. Latvia’s parliament elected President Edgars Rinkevics as the first openly gay head of state in the European Union in May, despite 45% of Latvians telling a 2019 Eurobarometer poll they would be uncomfortable with having a homosexual or bisexual high-ranking official.
The 2019 poll found 54% Latvians uncomfortable with having a homosexual or bisexual colleague, while according to a 2023 Globsec poll only 40% of the country supports legalising same-sex rights such as marriage.
Justice Minister Inese Libina-Egnere said the parliament did not intend to provide civil union partners with similar rights to married couples.
“We are acknowledging that we have families which are not married, and this is the way they can register their relationship,” she told Reuters. “The political will is to have a really specific kind of registered partnership.”
The top Latvian court ruled in 2020 that the country must recognise non-married families, and 46 same-sex couples successfully petitioned the courts to get recognised as family units, public broadcaster LSM said.
Latvia’s neighbour Estonia in June legislated same-sex marriage.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius and Janis Laizans in Riga; Editing by Alex Richardson)