IBAHRI denounces Estonian parliament’s decision to hold marriage referendum

Wednesday 23 December 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the Estonian parliament’s proposal to hold a referendum, on 18 April 2021, on the definition of marriage. The proposed question to be put before Estonia’s citizens is, ‘Must marriage remain a union between a man and a woman in Estonia?’. Respondents have the option of answering yes or no. Instigators of the proposed referendum, assuming the outcome of the vote, aim to amend Estonia’s Constitution in line with their homophobic views.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘The decision by Estonia’s coalition government to further a bill with the potential to limit the definition of marriage to between heterosexual couples only is a regressive move, and in violation of the Constitution of Estonia. The referendum poses a serious threat to the human rights of people in LGBTQI+ communities in Estonia and to a growing Europe-wide standard that recognises the reality of variation in sexual orientation and gender identity amongst the citizens of every country. As a nation that suffered in the past from oppression and discrimination, it is a tragedy that Estonia is considering inflicting such narrowmindedness upon its legal system. The IBAHRI calls on the country’s parliament to reconsider its decision and reject the bill.’

Mr Kirby added: ‘There Is a huge body of evidence that the availability of marriage is beneficial for the physical and mental health of people. It allows them to be able to form stable relationships based on love and affection, which is to the advantage of society itself. It should be encouraged in society as an attribute of the diversity of human nature amongst its citizens. It is high time that states across the globe acknowledge the need for improving the lives of same sex couples by legally recognising their fundamental right to choose a partner without fear of punishment or social stigma.’

On 14 December 2020, the Estonian parliament passed the first reading of a draft marriage referendum bill that was initiated by the Centre Party, the Conservative People’s Party, and the faction Isamaa. The proposal to reject the marriage referendum bill by the opposition Reform Party and Social Democratic Party was rejected by the parliament with 51 percent votes against. The bill has now moved on for a second reading with the deadline for submission of motions to amend scheduled for 30 December 2020.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, commented: ‘The IBAHRI agrees with the remarks of the opposition parties that labelled the referendum “pointless, ridiculous and cruel. It is unfathomable that at a time when COVID-19 cases are escalating in Estonia, financial, and other, resources are being diverted to the marriage referendum. We call on the Estonian parliament to reconsider this referendum, undertake to quash it in the next motion for consideration, take steps to legalise same sex marriages in Estonia and hold the marriages of same sex couples on a par with their heterosexual counterparts.’

In recent years, Estonia has gained a reputation for being a liberal state upholding democratic values. It was also one of the first countries in the Baltics to pass a law recognising same-sex partnerships. If passed, the marriage referendum would mark a retreat by the Estonian State from democratic values.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material on sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
  4. Find the IBAHRI on social media here:
    a. twitter.com/IBAHRI
    b. www.facebook.com/IBAhumanrights

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