The State of LGBTQ+ Rights in Eastern EU Countries

Published on 6 June 2021 at 14:33

The topic of LGBT+ rights is no longer treated like a taboo topic in the former Soviet satellites: since joining the EU, many of the eastern EU members are obliged, under EU directives, to treat all citizens equally regardless of their sexuality and ensure that all sorts of discriminations are erased.


Some of these countries went further and became the leaders in the region by introducing same-sex civil partnerships. Czechia, for example, is one step away from legalising same-sex marriage; if it succeeds in doing so, the country will make history as it will be the first from among the ex-Soviet satellites to legalize same-sex marriage. Saying that, however, doesn’t mean that there are no problems: there are in fact many.


While no country in Eastern Europe allows same-sex marriages there are some which are outliers in the region when it comes to same-sex civil unions. Among those where same-sex civil unions are legal are Czechia, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary. Note that both Hungary and Croatia have articles in their constitutions which state that marriage is between a man and a woman.


The definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman was included in the Croatian constitution after a 2013 referendum in which 66.28% of the voters backed such an amendment. Last month, Zagreb's Administrative Court ruling paved a way for same-sex couples to adopt children.  The Hungarian parliament, on the other hand, passed a law last year which effectively banned same-sex adoption and strengthened the definition of marriage as the ‘family unit’.


In 2015 the Slovenian lower house passed a bill to legalise same-sex marriage. However, it was blocked in the upper house and went to a referendum with a turnout of 36.38%. The referendum failed with 63.51% people voting against the proposal. In 2018, a referendum to constitutionally ban same-sex unions in Romania failed after the voters decided to boycott the poll and the required threshold was not met in order for the referendum to be legitimate. Days before the vote the Romanian President Kalus Iohannis called on the voters to boycott the poll.


In Poland during the Tusk government, the parliament was asked to back civil-unions a number of times. However, each time it attempted to do so, the votes failed as the conservative Justice Minister came to the parliamentary podium and urged MPs to vote against the bill. In turn, that led to a number of government MPs voting against the bill.


Today, at least one third of the councils in Poland have passed motions to declare themselves “LGBT Free Zones”. On top of that, the government's hostile rhetoric towards LGBT+ groups has definitely made the lives of LGBT people more difficult. Last week, a new LGBT organisation to support LGBT rights and tackle homophobia was launched by some prominent Polish figures: model Anja Rubik, Nobel winning writer Olga Tokarczuk, Netflix chef Antoni Porowski and a film director Agnieszka Holland.


Poland’s northern neighbour Lithuania, seems to be on the path of legalising same-sex civil unions. The new Lithuanian government has agreed during its coalition formation talks that, during its lifetime, civil-unions will become a reality in the country. Recently, a bill that would have allowed civil-unions in Lithuania failed, falling just two votes short. The MP who proposed it has vowed to propose it again in the Autumn with some minor changes to garner more support for it in parliament.


In Slovakia, bills which aimed to legalise same-sex partnerships were introduced on four occasion: in 1997, in 2000, in 2012 and in 2018. They were all rejected. However, the current Slovak President remains supportive of same-sex unions and the LGBT+ community overall.


The trend towards accepting same-sex civil union or even marriage is slowly becoming a reality among eastern EU members: polls across the states show that support for both same-sex unions and marriage is growing. It will, however, take some time for these to become a reality as the older and more conservative generations are still quite reluctant about it and the influence of religious institutions when it comes to issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion is great.


In IGLA’s 2021 report on the state of LGBT rights in Europe the ex-soviet satellites had the lowest scores among EU members, many fell into the category of “Gross Violations of Human Rights, Discrimination”.

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