Latvia: Gay And Lesbian Community Participates In Drafting Partnership Bill. Asks For Letters Of Support

The Saeima (Parliament) of the Republic of Latvia is now considering a bill which would create a special, legally recognized status for same-sex couples--similar to legislation already in force in many Scandinavian countries. On October 5, 1999 the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee of the Saeima began debating a draft law "On Registered Partnership of Persons of the Same Gender." This draft law was prepared by the Latvian National Human Rights Office, in consultation with the Homosexuality Information Centre (HIC), a non-governmental organization. The product of this unprecedented cooperation between a governmental body and the gay and lesbian community had been submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on September 28, 1999.

The Committee decided to submit the draft law to the Legal Office of the Parliament for evaluation. This office consists of five independent lawyers; its task is to provide the parliamentary commissions with legal advice. The Legal Office was asked to consider the draft law and to give advice on appropriate changes to existing legislation in order to guarantee the rights of same-gender couples.

In the week prior to the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Public Affairs, the issue of legal recognition of lesbian and gay partnership was one of the most discussed topics in the Latvian media. With few exceptions, Latvian activists report, "TV and radio programs and publications were neutral and factual, rather than negative and aggressive."

During the Committee's meeting, the Homosexuality Information Centre, in cooperation with two Riga gay clubs, "Purvs" and "XXL", organised a demonstration in support of the draft law near the Parliament building. The demonstration attracted significant interest in the national media, with Russian and Scandinavian journalists also reporting on the situation. Meanwhile, a small counter-demonstration, consisting of only three people, was organized by a newly-created group, "Latvian Society without Homosexuals".

Opposition to the draft bill persists. Two days prior to the Committee meeting, a Member of the Latvian Parliament and of the Committee, Mr Tabuns, spoke on the the main evening TV news broadcast, calling homosexuals "moral and physical cripples," and denouncing homosexuality as "moral and physical deformity."

Despite such outbursts, however, Latvian activists are hopeful that Parliament will act favorably on the draft partnership legislation. They ask for letters of support addressed to the President and parliamentary leaders.

Letters should be sent to:

Mrs Vaira Vike-Freiberga
President of the Republic of Latvia
Pils laukums 3
RIGA LV-1050
Latvia
e-mail: chancery@president.lv
Fax: +371 7325800
Mr Janis Straume
President of the Presidium
of the Saeima (Parliament) of the Republic of Latvia
Jekaba iela 11
Riga LV-1050
Latvia
e-mail: chairman@saeima.lv
Fax: +371 7830333
Mr Antons Seiksts
Chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights and Public Affairs
Jekaba iela 16
Riga LV-1050
Latvia
(Please mark communications clearly for Mr. Seikst in the subjectline or fax cover page)
e-mail: vestules@saeima.lv
Fax: +371 7325938; +371 7087100

A sample letter of support follows.

Your exellency,

We, (your name or name of your organization), have learned that the Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights and Public Affairs of the Latvian Parliament has received a draft law "On Registered Partnership of Persons of the Same Gender".

During the last decades lesbian and gay rights have become an integral part of both international and national human rights. In 1994 the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations interpreted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to include protection for individuals regardless of their sexual orientation. Latvia has been a full member of the United Nations Organisation since 1991.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where Latvia has been a full member since 1995, has issued a number of resolutions regarding protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Also, the European Court on Human Rights has found that discrimination against lesbians and gay men constitutes a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Since Latvia became independent, accession to the European Union has been one of the main goals in its policy. Most of the member states of the European Union provide, to one extent or another, legal protection for persons regardless of their sexuality. Many now offer formal recognition of lesbian and gay partnerships. Moreover, the founding document of the European Communities, the Treaty of Rome, was recently amended to enable to European Commission to remedy discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. There are also a number of other documents of the EU's institutions which furnish a legal basis for the elimination of discrimination against lesbians and gay men.

Latvia itself has a provision in its Constitution, Article 91, stating that "all perople are equal before the law and the courts."

Therefore we express our support for the adoption of a law "On Registered Partnership of Persons of the Same Gender." This law could provide a significant part of the Latvian society with legal equality. We also urge you to use your authority and to demonstrate your support for a historic step towards a democratic Latvia where the rights of all people will be respected.

Sincerely yours,

(Your name or name of your organization)