OPINION: Marriage equality in Estonia: a journey of regaining our values

by Signe Riisalo | The Republic of Estonia
Tuesday, 20 June 2023 12:34 GMT

A reveller holds a rainbow-coloured flag during the Tallinn Pride 2007 festival procession in Tallinn, Estonia, August 11, 2007. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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Today, Estonia joins the list of countries in legalizing same sex marriage

Signe Riisalo is Minister of Social Protection of the Republic of Estonia.

Estonia lost its independence to the Soviet Union in 1940 but we never lost sight of our value system that guided us through 50 years of dictatorial occupation.

It would be of course naïve to believe that 50 years full of threats and fear, of prosecuting free thought and speech, of discriminating minorities, including criminalising same-sex relationships, has not had a significant impact on how Estonians operate in the world. None the less, the transformation our country has went through during the past 30 years has been nothing less than spectacular.

And on June 20, Estonia joined the list of countries to allow each of its citizens to marry.

Too often Estonians are faced with accusations of being too cold and withdrawn. One might say it is hardly a surprise after all we have been put through as a small nation. So even if we work in quiet and feel that out trust needs to be earned, we commit fully. And that is the case now. The Estonian government has fully committed to shaping Estonia into a place where everyone feels accepted and valued.

After the general election in March and a historic win for the Estonian Reform Party led by Kaja Kallas, together with Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats, the most liberal coalition in Estonian history was formed. From the beginning, the coalition agreed on implementing the Civil Partnership law, over the course of the negotiations however it was agreed that the government would propose a full Marriage Equality bill.

Over the past couple of years, public opinion on marriage equality has been regularly monitored by the Foundation of the Liberal Citizen. In 2021, only 33% of those interviewed found marriage equality acceptable – although civil partnership was supported by the majority even then. Over the past 18 months, the numbers have changed drastically. Different surveys show a support of 55% to marriage equality and notably, 75% of young people aged between 20 and 29 are supporters of the bill.

The past few months have not been easy for our government. We have made several necessary economic decisions to ensure the stability of our budget. Cutting expenses and raising taxes is never a popular political equation, especially if the opposition is conservative and there’s a bill on the table which will allow same-sex marriage and adoption.

Regardless of the several sleepless nights at the parliament, however, I am beyond happy that we have been courageous enough to finally take this step and expand rights and protection to all Estonian families and repay the Estonian LGBTQ+ community their patience.

Estonia never wanted and never will want to be part of a repressive system that cannot accept multiplicity of truths and the right to express oneself without hurting anyone. The 7000 people who marched Pride in Tallinn this year are the brightest example of our will to live and govern ourselves as we see fit.

And we are here just for that: a safe and accepting environment for all.

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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