New Estonian Name Bill Unconstitutional, Say Organisations

The Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, a number of NGOs and the Chancellor of Justice have criticised the draft Name Bill, leading to public discussion in Estonian media and denials from the Government.

The new Name Bill proposed by the Estonian Minister of Population, Riina Solman, and the Estonian Ministry of the Interior has been met with serious criticism from Estonian NGOs and experts. Over the past few weeks a number of organisations have indicated that the bill is unconstitutional. The organisations that have pointed out the shortcoming of the bill include the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, the Estonian Human Rights Centre, the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner and the Estonian LGBT Union.

Draft bill ignores rights of same sex couples

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, the proposal does not take into consideration the situation of same-sex couples and the Civil Partnership Act. This is because is proposes that people in same-sex relationships should not have the right to take the surname of their partner. The Ministry also indicated that there are several Estonian given names that are recognised as being unisex, while the bill prohibits these kinds of names. According to the Ministry, the proposed Bill should be analysed to ensure that is in line with the principles of developing gender equality.

Bill contradicts Supreme Court ruling that protects rights to family life for LGBT couples

The Estonian Human Rights Centre commented that in democratic societies, the identity of a person, including their national or religious affiliation, gender or sexual identity, and other parts of their identity, is primarily defined by the individual, while taking into account the interests of society and the state. This means that the regulation of names should be guided by human rights, including the right to a name, the right to identity and the right to respect for private and family life.

The Centre considers the current draft of the Name Bill unconstitutional because it would prohibit people living in registered partnerships from taking their partner's surname. This contradicts the recent Supreme Court rulings that same-sex couples are protected by the fundamental right to family life. The Centre has argued that in the present case, there is no way to justify the difference in treatment between registered partners and spouses. The issue of giving a “gender unsuitable” name, which is based on an outdated approach and disproportionately restricts human rights, also raised some questions.

The justification that a person’s first name should always and without exception indicate their sex is totally inadequate and contrary to the rules on the protection of personal data. The ban on convicted criminals changing their names is also incomprehensible and disproportionate.

Minister pushes back against criticism

Riina Solman, the Minister that presented the draft Name Bill to the Ministry of the Interior was surprised at these comments. She said that the media claims about the bill were unfounded. "The proposed Name Bill does not bully anybody. Surnames are a family tradition demonstrating belonging to a circle of relatives and families. In the longer run, the boundaries between the families start to blur when taking surnames is allowed freely." she said in commenting on the criticism.

Since the proposition of the New Bill throughout the last weeks, the Chancellor of Justice and the Estonian LGBT Union have also added to the discussions on the bill, indicating that there some shortcomings regarding the rights of minorities (LGBTI and same sex couples) and gender equality.