Sten Hankewitz: Cuba just legalised equal marriage. Cuba! What’s wrong with you, Estonia?

Cuba, one of the last communist countries in the world, has legalised equal marriage – marriage between any consenting adults regardless of their gender. Estonia, supposedly one of the bastions of freedom in Europe, still hasn’t fully processed the Cohabitation Act that should grant same-sex couples equal rights to married couples. “What’s wrong with you, Estonia?” asks Sten Hankewitz, the executive editor of Estonian World.

Last month, Cuba, one of the last communist countries in the world, voted in a referendum to approve gay marriage – what I like to call equal marriage, because that’s what it is – with 67% of the voters backing it. The result of the referendum also allows same-sex couples to adopt children and promotes equal sharing of domestic rights and responsibilities between men and women.

Cuba. One of the last affiliates and dependencies of the Soviet Union – a country that ceased to exist in 1991 and a country that occupied Estonia from 1944 to 1991. And the criminal law of Soviet-occupied Estonia regarded “faggotry” as a crime until May 1992, punishable by up to ten years in prison.

But here we are. It’s 2022, thirty years after that law was repealed, and yet, in Estonia, equal marriage isn’t a thing. Consenting adults, should they be of the same gender, can’t get married. The Cohabitation Act that was adopted by parliament in 2014 provides same-sex couples with some of the rights, benefits and obligations of marriage, but the implementation acts of the law – which would provide the legal framework for how the law is actually applied – still haven’t been approved by the parliament.

An LGBT+ rally in Tallinn, 18 October 2020. Photo by Grete Maria Neppo.

Estonia has become more tolerant

Truth be told, Estonia has changed a lot. When I visited the country in August, I saw many same-sex couples holding hands, walking on the streets. Mainly female couples; the male couples held each other close but didn’t hold hands. I saw how the country had changed in the three years since I last visited.

Back in the day, when same-sex couples held hands or even appeared to be same-sex couples, they’d get beaten up. But now, they didn’t. It was a beautiful experience – to see Estonia become so much more tolerant, so much more accepting.

Of course, this was just Tallinn, the capital. More progressive, more tolerant people. I’m sure gay people would still get beaten up in some countryside villages.

A gay couple hugging. Photo by In Lieu & In View Photography on Unsplash.

The issue here is that the Estonian Reform Party and the Social Democrats initiated the Cohabitation Act when they were in the coalition government in 2014. They saw it through. The Cohabitation Act was passed in parliament. But after this, it was just shelved. The governments changed, nobody cared, and to this day, gay people can “cohabit” in theory, but not in practice.

After a four-year stint in opposition, the supposedly liberal Reform Party has again been the leading party in the government for almost two years. The Social Democrats joined the coalition government this summer. And nothing’s been done. The Cohabitation Act still hasn’t been implemented.

Sure, the world’s security situation has changed. Sure, there’s this outrageous, awful war in Ukraine.

But there also are domestic issues. Issues that need to be taken care of.

Don’t you get it?

The fact is that gay Estonians are still second-class citizens. They can “cohabit,” but not really, because the implementation acts have not been approved by parliament. They can’t adopt children. They can’t be married.

Cuba, the offspring of the Soviet Union, just legalised equal marriage.

The flag of Cuba painted in the LGBT+ colours. Artwork by Bayamo-el-archive, shared under the CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.

Estonia, which was illegally occupied by the Soviet Union and thinks of itself as the bastion of freedom, hasn’t.

What is Estonia waiting for? Eighteen countries in Europe recognise equal marriage. Maybe it’s time to make it nineteen.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

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