OPINION: Same-sex civil unions in Ukraine likely, but still several years away

Friday, 24 February 2023 10:05 GMT

An LGBTQ activist holds a placard reading "Do you think that anything unusual is a disease?!" during a rally for the rights of transgender people in Kyiv, Ukraine May 22, 2021. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun is the parliament’s most ardent advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. She talks with Openly in Kyiv, a year after Russia invaded Ukraine

Inna Sovsun is a member of the Ukrainian parliament and served as the country’s deputy education minister between 2014 and 2016. She is one of the authors of a proposed bill to legalise same-sex civil unions in Ukraine

The current status of LGBTQ+ rights in Ukraine is not perfect, but then I don't think it is perfect in any country. Every country has progress that could be made.

Ukraine, however, has made quite a lot of progress, particularly in terms of public perception. According to the most recent polling, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are very tolerant towards the LGBTQ+ community, which is a significant change even compared to five or 10 years ago.

There is an increased perception that LGBTQ+ people should have the same rights as their heterosexual peers. I also teach at the university, and I've seen students nowadays being willing to speak very openly about how they support LGBTQ+ rights. However, 10 years ago, when I started teaching, it was basically a taboo; even students in very progressive universities would keep quiet about this.

@openlynews Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun is Ukraine’s most ardent advocate within parliament for LGBTQ+ rights and a proponent of a bill to legalise same-sex civil unions. We met her in Kyiv to talk about the current state of queer rights in the country and the hopes that gay couples will gain the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts - especially after many LGBTQ+ Ukrainians have taken up arms to defend their nation against the Russian invasion almost a year ago. #ukrainewar #ukraine #russianinvasion ♬ оригинальный звук - Н҉А҉З҉А҉Р҉Ч҉И҉К҉

But while the perception of the LGBTQ+ community has changed dramatically, unfortunately government policy is not catching up. This is where we need to do work to make sure that LGBTQ+ people are not targeted by the police, so that crimes against LGBTQ+ people are properly investigated, and, most importantly to work towards marriage equality. But what we are talking at this stage is to first allow same-sex partnerships to be registered by the state

The question of civil unions is more broadly discussed today than it was even two years ago, despite the war taking place. Because of LGBTQ+ people visibly taking part in the military, everybody can see why there’s a legitimate need as to why it needs to be done.

I wouldn't say that I can be 100% sure that this legislation will be passed in a year or two years, as I think we're done forecasting anything at this point. But I think that chances for it to go through have increased dramatically over the past two years.

Two years ago, civil unions were not even a big part of the public debate. But nowadays, it's actually something that people are talking about. There was a recent petition to the president calling for draft legislation for civil unions.

Today, a majority of Ukrainians support civil unions for LGBTQ+ people, which has never been the case before. So I think that chances of it passing soon are pretty high. But I'm afraid that parliament tends to be more conservative than society itself and what we need to do is to tell MPs how society has moved on and show that they haven’t caught up.

I have been very actively involved in drafting the civil union legislation; my proposal was drafted by my team in consultation with several LGBTQ+ organisations and I'm ready to go forward with it.

We are now in the final stages of drafting, and we are ready to get it registered in the parliament as soon as we're done with the technicalities, which I think is going to be a couple of weeks from now. But I've always said that I'm going to do this.

We’ll still need the majority of MPs to get it passed, but someone needs to take the first step. There is, frankly speaking, unfortunately not a big competition among the members of parliament who are willing to go forward with it.

I'm ready to do this because it's crucially important for so many people, including those fighting in the military. I think someone just needs to say the first word, take the first step and see what happens.

As told to Openly editor, Hugo Greenhalgh, in Kyiv on February 18, 2021

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