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CIVIL PARTNERSHIP: ESTONIAN AND RUSSIAN EXPERIENCE

WHAT IS A CIVIL PARTNERSHIP 

civil partnership, also referred to as a civil union, is a legally recognized form of partnership similar to marriage. Civil partnerships are commonly criticised as being “separate but equal.” Marriage equality advocates say civil unions segregate same-sex couples by forcing them to use a separate institution.

ESTONIAN LAW ON CIVIL PARTNERSHIP

On 9 October 2014 the Estonian parliament passed a law on civil  partnerships, including those of same-gender couples. Thus, Estonia became the first former Soviet republic to green-light civil unions for same-sex couples.The law was passed by a narrow 40-38 margin with 10 members of Parliament abstaining from voting. It has been signed by President and will start operating on 1 January 2016. civil-partnership

The new law allows couples, regardless of gender, to officially register their relationship. Registration of the partnership gives access to almost the same rights as married couples, including financial, social and health benefits provided by the government and legal protection for children. The law will equalise partners’ rights in relation to partnership property to those of officially married couples. Partners will be able to inherit in the same manner as spouses do. To register a civil partnership, the couple will need to sign a notarized agreement.

Effectively, same-sex couples in Estonia will be able to officially register their relationship and adopt the biological children of each other. However, the new law does not give adoption rights for couples in such unions.

Interestingly, last week, TNS Emor, a public survey company in Estonia, published results of a poll on the legal recognition of gay families. The survey of 1000 respondents showed that 34% of Estonians backed the bill while 58% were against it. Public support for same-sex unions in Estonia far exceeds that of its Baltic neighbors. Similar surveys on same-sex unions in Latvia and Lithuania have put public support in the low double-digits.

Not all European Union countries recognise registered partnerships. Thus, civil partnership is not legally protected in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia.

THE STATUS OF CIVIL PARTNERSHIP AND SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IN RUSSIA

Russian law does not provide for civil partnership whether heterosexual or same sex. Neither are de facto relationships or cohabitation legally recognized. Unless a couple registers their marriage, they cannot inherit after each other, or have property rights or financial, social and health benefits provided by the government like married couples do.

An unmarried couple can be registered as biological parents of the child, but they cannot adopt each other’s biological children or any children at all. Marriage is traditionally understood and interpreted by courts as a union of a woman and a man.

Russia has recently passed several anti-gay laws including banning adoptions by same-sex couples and prohibiting exposing minors to gay propaganda.

At the same time according to social studies de facto relationship is becoming an increasingly mainstream family arrangement while the marriage rate is declining. Indeed, the practical difference between a married and a de facto couple is often hard to see these days. It seems important for the  Russian law to reflect the change by introducing the legal concept of civil partnership.

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