by Sabine Hannakampf
In Latvia, women are entitled to 56 days “maternity leave” before the birth and 56 days “birth leave” after the birth, making a total of 112 days of paid maternity leave. Fathers are entitled to ten days’ paid parental leave after the birth of a child. Is this also available to homosexual couples? And what impact does the current ruling on lesbian co-mothers have on the backlog of reforms regarding the recognition of homosexual partnerships?
As reported by the Latvian public broadcaster LSM (source), a Latvian mother filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court because her partner was not granted the paid ten-day parental leave to which the father of a child is entitled under the Labour Code. The applicant stated that the employer’s decision did not allow her partner to provide her and her child with physical and emotional support. This was contrary to the best interests of the child and in breach of Article 110 of the Constitution, which states that the legislature has a duty to protect all families.
The Constitutional Court upheld the mother’s case on 12 November. According to the court, the Constitution provides that the law protects every family, including rainbow families. The ruling cannot be appealed against.
Basic ruling in the name of children’s rights
In its reasoning, the court stressed that the interests and rights of a child take precedence. Therefore, it had to be ensured that children grow up in a family environment and that regulations are made in the best interests of the children. The court conceded that
a number of existing provisions can be extended to same-sex partners.
However, the right to make use of this possibility does not constitute a legal framework for same-sex partnerships.
Homophobia in Latvia
Homophobic comments and also hate crimes against queer people are commonplace in Latvia. The country is far below the EU average, according to ILGA-Europe’s annual publication on the human rights situation of queer people in Europe. Only in the category “civil society space” (light blue) did Latvia reach 100 percent.
The majority of Latvian society is hostile to homosexuality. While 72 percent of respondents in the EU have no problem with same-sex relationships, in Latvia the figure is only 25 percent. Latvia is also lagging behind when it comes to approval of same-sex marriage: this is 69 percent in the EU, compared to 24 percent in Latvia.
The lack of acceptance among the Latvian population is partly due to the fact that the state itself has a negative attitude towards queer ways of life that are contrary to the understanding of a traditional family.
Recent failure to establish a civil partnership
As recently as 29 October, the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia, the Saeima, rejected an initiative by 10,392 Latvian citizens* to “register same-sex partners”, LSM reported. 55 MPs voted against the initiative, 30 voted in favour, one member abstained. The remainder of the 100 Saeima MPs did not take part in the vote at all. Abstention is considered an active vote in Latvia.
The Mandate, Ethics and Submission Committee had advised against the initiative in the run-up to the vote. Janīna Kursīte-Pakule, Head of the Mandate, Ethics and Submissions Committee, stated that the initiative violated the Constitution. “The main component of Article 110 of the Constitution is that the state protects and supports the union between men and women. We cannot change the Constitution with the signatures of 10,000 or 15,000 people”.
Jānis Dombrava from the “National Alliance ‘Everything for Latvia’ – ‘Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK'” argued that from a social security point of view there are more urgent issues in Latvia that need to be addressed. But instead of dealing with these socially less attractive issues, it was “easier for colleagues to put on rainbow shirts” and not to talk about them.
The response of the independent member Jūlija Stepaņenko of “Honour to serve Riga” to the argument that same-sex couples are not legally protected and are in a worse position than other families, was that same-sex couples can live together after all and “nothing needs to be regulated”. “If you don’t claim an inheritance, if they love each other, then let them live as they wish”, said Stepaņenko
Disappointment with the initiators
The citizens’ initiative protested against the result. Kirils Ķirsis and Laura Rigerte, two of the organisers* of the demonstrations, demanded
“We believe that the state must create a legal framework so that two adults can legally register relationships regardless of their sex”,
Inese Voika from the party Attīstībai/Par! (Development/For!) called on the Saeima “not to become the last bastion of darkness and fear”. It should not be that a marriage recognised in another EU country is not recognised in Latvia and that a “marriage that was valid in Stockholm is no longer valid [in Latvia]”.
MEP Toms Plešs, also from the party Attīstībai/Par!, said he was ashamed that still not everyone in Latvia is valuable. Plešs stressed that it was time to stop this,
“to divide our society into privileged and undesirable families, because every family has a value that must be protected”.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling is a reminder of the arduous German path to marriage for all: here too, the Constitutional Court has had to give the legislator a few pointers on several occasions.
- IGLA-Europe Lettland: By IGLA-Europe Rainbow Map. Lettland. https://www.rainbow-europe.org/#8642/0/0
- 121267120_968172176993089_1111543394970740704_o: By: facebook.com/arturs.toms.pless
- gilly-jFqUJacYIsw-unsplash: By: Gilly / unsplash.com / CC0
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