Ukraine takes first steps to codify gay marriage

Ukraine takes first steps to codify gay marriage
Ukraine's justice ministry has dropped objections to a bill that would allow same-sex couples register as partners in the first step towards gay marriage. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews October 24, 2023

Ukraine's justice ministry took the first steps towards codifying gay marriage by approving Bill No. 9103, titled "On the Institution of Registered Partnerships" on October 22.

The ground-breaking bill would establish in law registered partnerships as a voluntary family union for two adult individuals, regardless of gender.

Homophobia is widespread across all of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and LGBT people are regularly abused or discriminated against as so many of the cultures are rooted in conservative Orthodox Christian “family” values.

While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has not publicly advocated for LGBT rights, which remains a politically sensitive topic, he issued a measured statement of support ahead of the 2021 Pride. However, he was more outspoken when dealing with a homophobic heckler at a rare pre-war meet the press event.

Zelenskiy patiently waited for the member of the public to finish his psychotic rant, accusing the president of promoting prostitution and spreading the “perversion of homosexuality”. Zelenskiy did not mince words in his rebuttal: “Regarding LGBT: I don’t want to say anything negative because we all live in an open society where each one can choose the language they speak, their ethnicity and [sexual] orientation. Leave those people finally at peace, for God’s sake!”

While gay pride marches have become more common in recent years, especial in Central Europe’s EU members, attitudes vary vastly, and in general there is a values fault line in Central Europe, where the further east you go the more conservative and homophobic the cultures become.

The first Central European country to legalise same-sex marriages was Slovenia. The Constitutional Court of Slovenia ruled that the ban on same-sex marriages violated the Constitution of Slovenia and gave the Slovenian parliament six months to amend the law to align with the ruling. Gay marriage has been legal since July 9, 2022.

The Baltic states are widely seen as amongst the most liberal of all the FSU countries, yet Estonia became on the second CEE country to legalise gay marriage in only June this year. And Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics was the first ever sitting minister to come out as gay via Twitter on the night of November 6, 2014. He was later elected president this May, but this remains a rare example of tolerance in the east.

Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Latvia, Montenegro and Poland legally recognise some form of civil union that covers same-sex relations, but falls short of marriage. Although they do not recognise same-sex unions themselves, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania are bound by a ruling by the European Court of Justice to recognise same-sex marriages performed within the EU, although this ruling is often ignored.

When the Georgian LGBT community tried to hold a gay pride march last year the organisation headquarters was attacked and one man killed. This year’s attempted was cancelled after right-wing conservatives, egged on by the local Orthodox Church, threatened a repeat of the violence.

With its aspiration to join the EU, Kyiv has been more progressive than most and regularly holds pride marches. The first consisted of a small group of members from the LGBT community that were entirely surrounded by two ranks of police, but the last pride march held before the outbreak of war in September 2021 was the most successful ever and took on the party atmosphere that is characteristic of pride marches in Western Europe. But as bne IntelliNews argued in an opinion piece almost ten years ago, the adoption of gay rights in the FSU is likely to take several generations.

The process in Ukraine is being accelerated by the prospect of starting formal EU accession negotiations this December. Kyiv has been sent long lists of reforms by its partners in recent months including the US, EU and IMF, which it has used to draw up a comprehensive reform plan. In its last verbal briefing Brussels said that Kyiv was making good progress at meeting the condition of the EU’s own Ukraine Plan as part of the Ukraine Facility, a €50bn financial support programme from the EU for 2024-2027.

Amendments for the second reading of Bill No. 9103 are currently being prepared, Inna Sovsun, an MP from the liberal Holos party, announced on Facebook.

Previously, the ministries had raised concerns that hindered the progress of the bill in Ukraine's parliament, but those objections seem to have been overcome. The justice ministry, which had initially planned to develop an alternative partnership bill, is now prepared to endorse Bill No. 9103. This change means that the initiative now rests with the Rada, which must approve the bill in the first reading and allow the justice ministry to introduce its amendments for the second reading of three readings.

The adoption of Bill No. 9103 would enable Ukraine to fulfil its obligations under Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights, eliminating grounds for discrimination complaints against Ukraine at the European Court of Human Rights, according to the justice ministry.

The bill was first registered in the parliament on March 14 and proposes the introduction of registered partnerships, also known as civil partnerships. These partnerships would grant the status of close relatives, akin to first-degree family members regardless of whether they live together or share a household and doesn’t preclude the partners being of the same sex. This is not formally the same status as a marriage, with all the benefits attached to that, but it does allow for gay families.

The authors of the bill highlight that it aims to safeguard the rights of military personnel who are currently unable to officially formalise their relationships if their partners are of the same gender.

Additionally, Defence Minister Rustem Umerov has indicated overall support for the bill. However, the provision allowing military personnel to register their partnership without their physical presence, if they are on duty, is suggested to be applicable only during a state of war, NV reports.