We Are People, Not Propaganda: LGBT+ Human Rights in Lithuania

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Teddy Österblom via Unsplash

As a region, Eastern Europe is nothing less than a complex one. On the one hand, it is a region of countries that have been the lighthouse of emerging and consolidating democracies in modern history. On the other hand, it still faces many challenges in protecting its citizens and ensuring human rights.

In most countries of the region, LGBT+ citizens are not protected enough – there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships and in some of them discriminatory laws are still valid. Eastern European countries that are part of the European Union have more legal protection of LGBT+ citizens as it is partly regulated by the Union itself.

But there is little progress in other parts of the region. Even though the societies are generally becoming more accepting towards LGBT+ individuals, the nationalist and populist movements are gaining in power as well.

It is so important to understand that Europe as a whole is as strong as its smallest members. It is crucial to protect the rights of minorities in order to ensure the democratic and prosperous future of Europe. In this rapidly changing and turbulent world, we must continue to fight for the protection of basic human rights – a right to get one’s relationships legally recognized, to be safe and to simply be themselves.

According to the annual “Rainbow Europe Map” by the ILGA-Europe,[1] Lithuania ranked 34th among 49 European countries in terms of legal protections for LGBT+ persons in 2020. The last legislative initiative to improve legal protections of LGBT+ persons, namely the Law on Equal Treatment,[2] was adopted in 2003 in order to transpose Employment Equality Framework Directive 2000/78/EC in preparation for Lithuania’s accession to the European Union in 2004.

Despite the fact that public attitudes have developed towards more acceptance and inclusion of LGBT+ persons ever since, local politicians remain reluctant in demonstrating political leadership and adopting necessary decisions. As a result, legal recognition of same-sex families, legal gender recognition, effective response to homo- and transphobic hate crimes and so-called “homosexual propaganda” legislation remain the most pressing legal issues for the LGBT+ community in Lithuania.

Lithuanian remains one of a few jurisdictions in the EU without any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. In 2017, the Lithuanian Parliament not only dismissed a bill on introducing gender-neutral registered partnerships,[3] but also proposed to regulate same-sex relationships through so-called “cohabitation agreements” which would strip same-sex partners of family status altogether.[4]

The national migration authorities’ failure to recognize same-sex marriages concluded abroad for the purposes of immigration resulted in a case before the Constitutional Court. In 2019, the Constitutional Court decided that exclusion of same-sex spouses for migration purposes is unconstitutional.[5]

Despite the fact that the Constitutional Court deliberated on a very narrow legal issue, it did not miss an opportunity to provide more detailed explanations regarding LGBT+ human rights. According to the Constitutional Court, the Constitution directly prohibits discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and (or) gender identity, LGBT+ human rights cannot be made conditional upon the preferences of majority and same-sex partners (families) fall under the ambit of the constitutional concept of “family life”.

In May 2021, the Lithuanian Parliament voted on the Partnership Bill again. The bill was rejected by the margin of two votes, as 63 MPs voted in favour, seven MPs abstained and 58 MPs voted against.[6]

Despite the fact that the Partnership Law would tackle a specific legal problem, it has become a symbolic token of legally acknowledging the local LGBT+ community. The division in the Parliament clearly indicates that society and politicians are still sharply divided over the issue.

A similar political reluctance in tackling specific LGBT+ legal issues applies to the issue of legal gender recognition. Although the Civil Code includes the right for a person to change their gender, the specific law outlining the conditions and procedure for legal gender recognition has not been adopted yet. In 2007, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case L. v. Lithuania concluded that non-existent legal regulation amounts to a violation of the right to respect for private life.[7]

The Lithuanian authorities are yet to adopt the required legislation. For a long time, identity documents for transgender persons were replaced only after a gender reassignment surgery, which in turn implied forced sterilization. This situation turned in 2017 when national courts ordered legal gender recognition based solely on a psychiatrist’s diagnosis.[8]

This precedent resulted in a consistent national jurisprudence. Following this progressive jurisprudence, nearly 50 transgender persons have already received their new identity documents in Lithuania.

Despite the fact that hate crimes and hate speech on the grounds of sexual orientation are explicitly criminalized through the national criminal law, the Lithuanian authorities systematically failed to effectively respond to this negative phenomenon. While the official statistics provide only a few recorded instances of hate crimes and hate speech on the grounds of sexual orientation, international surveys and opinion polls indicate that hate-motivated incidents are widespread in Lithuanian society.

In 2020, in the case Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania, the ECtHR  concluded that an effective legal remedy for combating homophobic hate speech in Lithuania does not exist.[9] The Strasbourg court arrived at this conclusion due to the biased position taken by the national authorities – not investigating complaints about anti-LGBT+ hate speech, as well as flawed national jurisprudence, insisting on the local LGBT+ community “to respect the views and traditions of others when exercising their own rights.”

In order to implement this judgment effectively, not only the national law enforcement authorities and prosecutors will have to change their practices, but also the national courts will have to reconsider their jurisprudence to match the ECtHR’s standards.

Another important aspect, defining the legal realities of LGBT+ persons in Lithuania, is the so-called “homosexual propaganda” legislation. Article 4.2.16 of the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information stipulates that

“[i]nformation adversely affecting minors shall include the following public information:  […] which expresses contempt for family values, encourages the concept of entering into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania.”[10]

Despite the fact that this legal provision is a “dead law” (i.e. it has not been applied in practice since 2014), its discriminatory application with the view of censoring LGBT+-related public information has caused a chilling effect not only among the media but also among civil society organizations. At the moment, the ECtHR is considering the case Neringa Dangvydė Macatė v. Lithuania, which is going to check the legal provision’s compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).[11]

Despite many legal challenges, there are some positive developments as well. In the general elections in October 2020 the newly established Freedom Party (Lit. “Laisvės partija”), i.e. the only political party fully embracing LGBT+ human rights agenda and advocating for marriage equality in Lithuania, received more than 9% of the popular vote and got 11 seats in the Lithuanian Parliament (out of 141).

I have been elected to the national Parliament as the first openly LGBT+ politician, campaigning on the human rights agenda. Our political group will continue to fight for human rights based on human dignity for all Lithuanian citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This political agenda might prove extremely difficult to fulfil, requiring a principled stance, continuous commitment and not-so-easy compromises. However, there is a simple idea that keeps us going.

When I was a teenager, discovering my identity as a gay man, it seemed that I am the only person of this kind in the whole wide world. There were no openly gay individuals around me. It was alienating.

It would have been so much easier if I had a chance to see someone like me at the highest political position in my own country. To see that I was not alone. To see someone that was going through the same challenges that I was, but not giving up and fighting for a better future. And only if I can be that example for someone else in my capacity as a member of the Parliament today, this political journey will make an impact. It has already made that.

 


Written by: Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius – a Lithuanian politician, Member of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania, chair of the Human Rights Committee and LGBT+ rights activist. His political agenda is focused on human rights, including legal recognition of same-sex relationships through the legislation on registered partnerships

 


The article has been published in “Free Voices. LGBT+ Rights in Eastern Europe” (ELF 2022). Available here: https://liberalforum.eu/publication/free-voices-lgbt-rights-in-eastern-europe/


[1] ILGA-Europe (May 2021). Rainbow Map Europe. Country Ranking. Retrieved from https://rainbow-europe.org/country-ranking.

[2] Law on Equal Treatment of the Republic of Lithuania, No. IX-1826, 18 November 2003, last amendments on 1 July 2019. Retrieved from https://www.e-tar.lt/portal/lt/legalAct/TAR.0CC6CB2A9E42/asr.

[3] “29 Lithuanian MPs Vote in Favor of Same-Sex Partnership as the Proposal Gets Rejected” (2017, June 15). lgl.lt. Retrieved from  http://www.lgl.lt/en/?p=17529.

[4] Civilinio kodekso 6.589, 6.969, 6.971, 6.973, 6.978 straipsnių pakeitimo įstatymo projektas, No. XIIIP-750, 23 May 2017. Retrieved from https://e-seimas.lrs.lt/portal/legalAct/lt/TAP/2eed4fd03fbe11e7b8e5a254f4e1c3a7.

[5] Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, Judgment No. KT3-N1/2019, Case No. 16/2016, 11 January 2019. Retrieved from https://www.lrkt.lt/en/court-acts/search/170/ta1915/content.

[6] “Lithuania parliament votes against debating same-sex partnership bill” (2021, May 25). Reuters.com. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/lithuania-parliament-votes-against-debating-same-sex-partnership-bill-2021-05-25.

[7] L v. Lithuania (Application No. 27527/03, ECtHR), 11 September 2007. Retrieved from http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-82243.

[8] Vilnius City District Court, Case No. e2YT-5329-934/2017, 7 April 2017.

[9] Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania (Application. no. 41288/15, ECthR), 14 January 2020. Retrieved from http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/fre?i=001-200344.

[10] Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, No. IX-1067, 10 September 2002, last amendments on 1 February 2021. Retrieved from https://www.e-tar.lt/portal/lt/legalAct/TAR.817CC58C1A54/asr.

[11] Neringa Dangvydė Macatė v. Lithuania (Application No. 61435/19), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-203664.


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