Breakthrough for Same-Sex Couples in Estonia

Estonia has torn up previous policy and juridical practice and finally decided to give temporary residence rights to the registered same-sex partners of Estonians, allowing them to live a family life in Estonia.

At the beginning of August, the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board accepted an application for temporary residence submitted by Sarah Raud. Raud is a US citizen who is married to Kristiina Raud, an Estonina citizen, based on the Registered Partnership Act.

Couple married in the US refused temporary residence permit in Estonia

Sarah and Kristiina Raud got married legally in USA in 2015 and decided to come and live in Estonia. However, the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board refused to issue the temporary residence permit to Sarah so the couple turned to the courts to defend their rights. Last year an Estonian court delivered a final decision saying that the state of Estonia did not recognise the couple's marriage as a basis for issuing a temporary residence permeit.

Legal fight takes its toll on couple

Although during these two years, Sarah had to leave Estonia several times, which brought emotional turmoil and financial expenses, the couple took the case to court for another round in the name of justice, rights, their love and family and for other couples in similar situations. On 5 June in 2018 they registered their partnership under Registered Partnership Act, on the basis of which, Sarah applied for the temporary residence permit from the state to get the legal right to live in Estonia. It took the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board a whole year to process the application (instead of a month as set out in the legislation) but they eventually accepted Sarah’s application. In doing so they referred to the decision made by the general assembly of the State Court that admitted the part of the law which does not provide a basis for the right of temporary residence to the same sex partners of Estonia citizens is unconstitutional.

Outcome positive for same-sex couples in Estonia but European rulings could take years

Liisa Linna, the advocate who represented the couple throughout the case helped Sarah and Kristiina to turn to the European Court of Human Rights to get a juridical assessment of the situation. The news does not influence the European Court of Human Rights and arriving at a real court decision there could take years.

Kari käsper, the Executive Director of the Estonian Human Rights Centre commented that "It is positive that the state has taken the direction to behave with same sex couples in a more humane and dignified way. there is no justifiable reason to treat the foreign partners in a same-sex relationship worse than those couples where both of the partners are Estonians."

Kristiina and Sarah expressed their satisfaction that the state has changed its practice, although the decision came too late for them. "We are very glad that the state of Estonia has changed their approach in regards of same sex couples and families and that Sarah could finally have the right to live in Estonia. However, the process was long and through that period we suffered under lot of stress due to the uncertainty and unstable future prospects and we grew apart. So, during the process, we decided to break up."

Legislation not being implemented a boost for LGBTI rights

Although the Registered Partnership Act was was passed in the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) on 9 October 2014 and it entered into force on 1 January 2016 to this date, the Riigikogu has, however, not passed any implementing legislation. This means provisions that specify the implementation of the Registered Partnership Act in everyday practical situations have not been put into practice.