A Baltic Breakthrough For Gay Rights

Yesterday, Estonia’s parliament passed a law recognizing same-sex civil unions and allowing gay couples to adopt each other’s children:

Estonia is the first country of the former Soviet Union to recognize same-sex partners—though, as [Estonian President Toomas] Ilves also noted on Twitter, the label of “first former Soviet republic” downplays the fact that Estonia has been independent for almost 25 years. The law is remarkable not because of the country’s past, but because of the reality of its political present: Neighboring Russia has been using anti-LGBTQ propaganda to stir up anti-Western, anti-EU sentiment in Eastern Europe. In some cases, that worked to turn people against the West. In others, it has worked to turn people against LGBTQ rights: Georgia, for example, passed an EU-friendly anti-discrimination law in May, but only after the government made the law less enforceable and offered to change the constitution to state that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But Russian pressure did not work in Estonia, despite Kremlin lobbying. (Judging from that lobbying, there are those in Moscow who would like us to continue to think of Estonia as a “former Soviet” state.)

Russian pressure is, however, working to suppress LGBT activism in Russia itself, as Keating discovers while checking on the effects of the ban on “homosexual propaganda” that went into force last summer:

Andrei Obolensky, chairman of the LGBT rights group Rainbow Association, told me: “We used to do a lot of film screenings as a form of education, but now we can’t show a film unless it gets a certificate from the state confirming that it can be publicly shown. A lot of smaller places that could show films will not allow it in their facilities anymore.” He continued, “Police will attend some our events to check passports.” The event could be shut down if underage attendees were present. Local authorities will also “refuse permits for any kind of rally or to register any organization.”

Obolensky also said that even liberal opposition groups are sometimes reluctant to associate themselves with the gay rights cause and that “many Russian journalists don’t like to cover LGBT questions. They fear being punished by this homophobic law.” He also noted that the movement has been hurt by an increasing number of activists choosing to emigrate.