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In response to growing rates of unmarried cohabitation, a bill is being prepared for the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament), which, if passed, would allow couples to formalise their relationship through civil partnership, regardless of gender. The bill seems very likely to succeed, having already gained the support of MPs from all four major parties, including a minority from the most conservative of these, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union. There is no talk of it leading to anything like the UK’s Equal Marriage Bill. (Even if we were to assume that a marriage equality bill could provide full equality, what we have in the UK is not truly ‘equal’ as it does not accommodate transgender couples.) According to Gay Star News: “it seems unlikely that the bill will create adoption rights for same-sex couples in Estonia as this is strongly opposed by government coalition member party the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, whose leadership are opposed to same-sex partnerships being recognised.”

The truth is, for many of us, that same-sex marriages and civil partnerships are our very smallest concerns. It is such a small step, which offers some extended property rights and perhaps more tolerance, but little else. Anyone who doesn’t buy into the fantasy of “gay affluence” knows this. Far more urgent problems specifically affecting LGBT people include unemployment, homelessness, censorship, and violence at the hands of fascist gangs in collusion with the state. Being so close to Russia and Lithuania, Estonians must feel a particular urgency against the violence and censorship of “gay propaganda”.

From June 2nd to 8th, the annual Baltic Pride festival will be held in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn.

Baltic Pride logo

Baltic Pride logo

It is likely that this will be a betterindicator of public opinion on sexuality than the civil partnership law. Homophobic protesters fromthe conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union should be expected, as well as from the small but visible far-right Estonian Independence Party, which uses white supremacist symbolism and has ties to neo-Nazis who annually display support for the Estonian Waffen SS.

We cannot rely on a change in the law to destroy institutional sexism and people’s commonly held prejudices, when lawmakers have historically sought so much to divide and conquer the working class along lines of sexuality and gender. Our goal as socialists is queer liberation, and those kinds of discussions will appear in Baltic Pride, not in parliament. We must find some way to show solidarity with this campaign.

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National LGBT rights organisation Lithuanian Gay League cooperated with ILGA-Europe in publishing a report at the end of 2013 on ‘Homophobic and Transphobic Hate Crimes in Lithuania’ for the year. Lithuania has the highest hostility rate of any EU member state, with 61% of its LGBT community claiming they suffer discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only one in ten people reports a perceived hate crime to the authorities, often because they are reluctant to disclose orientation or identity. There is likely to be distrust of the authorities as well: the report describes a gay man who believed the police were ‘indifferent’ to his concerns. The findings of this report, based on interviews from March to November 2013, help us to break down incidents of discrimination and violence, and understand where they are coming from.

The Law in Lithuania currently does not allow legal recognition of gender reassignment or same-sex marriage. Like in Russia, censorship against ‘gay propaganda’ can be practiced. Adverts for Baltic Pride, an event held annually in one of the three Baltic countries, were banned by the Ethics Office. The LGL protested against this in October. Petras Gražulis, an MP for the Order and Justice party, wants to push this censorship further and institute fines for the „denigration of family values“. Among these so-called crimes are public speeches, protest signs, posters, slogans, and promotional videos, and of course demonstrations like Baltic Pride. 46 MPs voted in favour of Gražulis‘ ammendemnts, 10 voted against, and 22 abstained.

Three key opinion-makers are the source of a great deal of homophobia in Lithuania. First is the press and in particular tabloid journalism. Nationalist paper Respublika is most strongly compliant: they ran a media campaign against LGBT people from 2004—2006. Secondly: church leaders, especially the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. A statement by the Lithuanian Catholic Church said that “homosexuality is perversion”. Politicians are just as bad, with frequent statements comparing gays to paedophiles and calling for the death penalty for homosexuality. MPs were asked for their opinion on the statement “homosexuality is perversion” and over two thirds were in favour, with more abstaining than being against it. Even one of those against the statement, Vilma Martinkaitiené, showed a homophobic nature: “There needs to be more tolerance towards the disabled and the sick. I think that these people are sick, in a way.”

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