Three couples take Lithuania to court over failure to recognize same-sex partnerships

  • 2023-04-11
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Three couples are taking the Lithuanian state to court over its failure to legally recognize same-sex partnerships and marriages. 

In the cases, the same-sex couples are seeking the registration of a civil partnership, entry of a marriage concluded abroad into the civil register, and recognition and registration of a same-sex marriage in Lithuania.

Initiated by the Youth Tolerance Association, the cases are aimed at removing obstacles to the recognition and regulation of the couples' relationships. 

"For a long time, it has been misinterpreted that the Lithuanian Constitution prohibits same-sex marriages, but this is a myth that we will try to dispel in court. Especially since more than half of EU member countries have already legalized same-sex marriages," Aivaras Zilvinskas, the lawyer leading the case, said in a press release on Tuesday. 

"The court is being asked to recognize the same-sex couples as families and to order the civil registry office to register a civil partnership in one case and a marriage in another case," he added.

Paragraph 3 of Article 38 of the Constitution reads that "Marriage shall be concluded upon the free mutual consent of man and woman". 

However, the Constitutional Court ruled in 2019 that Lithuania had to grant a residence permit to a foreign man who had married a Lithuanian of the same sex in another country, even though Lithuania does not allow homosexual marriages.

The Constitutional Court has also said that "the constitutional concept of the family may not be derived solely from the institution of marriage, consolidated in Paragraph 3 of Article 38 of the Constitution". 

According to Zilvinskas, Lithuania's refusal to recognize and register same-sex families is in breach of its international commitments, "which have just been highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights (...) in the Fedotova v. Russia case".

In the case, the court ruled that Russian authorities' refusal to provide legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples violated the applicants' human rights.  

The lawyer noted that "the Lithuanian Constitution also establishes the equality of all persons before the law and the right of all persons to a family".

Martynas Norbutas, one of the applicants in the marriage registration case, said that a court victory would provide same-sex families with legal security.

"First of all, marriage would give LGBTQ+ families equal protection and allow people to be calmer about their loved ones if something were to happen to them. Equally important is that it is a way to express one's feelings and show commitment to one's partner," he said. 

The Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) has joined the initiative which is financially supported by the Tolerant Youth Association and private individuals.

The state of Lithuania, represented by the Justice Ministry, is the defendant in the cases.

The ruling bloc has drafted and tabled a bill aimed at regulating relations of same-sex partners. The draft Law on Civil Union has been discussed by the parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, but has not been submitted to the full Seimas for consideration.

Currently, Lithuanian laws do not recognize either opposite-sex or same-sex civil partnerships. Several previous attempts to legalize civil partnerships fell through at an early stage of the parliamentary process.