Democracy & Justice

Lithuanian Parliament to Debate Law on Civil Unions

The Lithuanian Parliament will soon take up debate on a draft law on the registration of civil unions. The bill represents a step forward for the rights of the LGBTI+ community in the country, although the text as been criticized as insufficient.

by Human Rights Monitoring Institute

Following its submission to the floor, the Lithuanian Parliament on 26 May 2022 approved the draft Law on Civil Union, which covers both same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships. This new, amended version of the draft law was submitted by a group of MPs in response to the rejection of a more liberal-leaning draft by Parliament last spring.

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Relationships covered by the proposed law

The draft Law on Civil Union covers the registration of civil unions, the grounds and procedures for recognizing or terminating them, as well as the property and personal rights and obligations of the partners. A civil union is defined as a voluntary agreement (registered in accordance with the law) between two people (partners) to establish or develop and protect their personal relationship.

The draft law stipulates that once the partners enter into a civil union, they are bound by the duties of loyalty, respect, and moral and material support for one another. The draft provides for the right of representation in health care institutions, determines the legal status of joint property, and regulates inheritance issues. Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples can enter into civil unions.

Opinion of the LGBTI+ community

While the majority of the LGBTI+ community and rights organizations welcomed the fact that Parliament approved the draft law, the text has been criticized for only providing basic protection for partners’ rights. LGBTI+ rights organizations are urging MPs to adjust the draft law to reflect the needs and suggestions of the LGBTI+ community, to allow for the assumption of a partner’s last name and to protect the rights of the partners’ underage children – provisions that the current version lacks. The Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson thought the draft was insufficient, but that it was also necessary for Parliament to debate it.

The fact that unions would have to be registered by a notary public and not the Civil Registry also drew criticism, as well as the fact that relationships within partnerships were not defined as family relationships. As far back as 2011, the Constitutional Court had decreed that the constitutional concept of family covered not only marriage, but also other forms of family relationships, and in 2019 it stated that the constitutional concept of family was gender-neutral. Still, some legal experts believe that certain provisions of the draft Law on Civil Union concerning the partners’ mutual obligations, such as the requirement to respect and morally support one another, could be tantamount to legal regulation of a family relationship.

Opposition to the project

It is hoped that this draft Law on Civil Union will gain the necessary majority of MP votes for adoption. However, some MPs opposing partnerships claim that the only thing that changed since the previous version of the draft law was the name – its essence remains the same, to make LGBTI+ couple relationships equal to family relationships. As an alternative to legalizing partnerships, the group of MPs opposing the draft law submitted amendments to the Civil Code that seek to create and protect the concept of a "close connection", with the close connection between family members "trumping connections formed through other means" – thus preventing the recognition of family relationships in same-sex couples. These draft amendments drew harsh criticism from legal experts, the LGBTI+ community, and LGBTI+ rights organizations, as they do not address the needs of the LGBTI+ community and "close connections" cannot be properly defined or evaluated by law.

The draft laws will be discussed in parliamentary committees first before making their way to a plenary session in Parliament. Parliament is expected to vote on both draft laws this June.

Support for partnerships and the LGBTI+ community

In May, over 500 members of the academic community sent an open letter to MPs urging them to pass a law on partnerships. In addition, almost 18,000 people signed a petition calling for such a law, while the Lithuanian Psychological Association showed its support for the Law on Civil Union in an open letter. 20 foreign ambassadors to Lithuania also expressed their support for the LGBTI+ community and the latter’s right to a family.

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