Lithuanian President Approves Discrimination of Registered Partners from EU

Despite the appeal by the National LGBT* Rights Organization LGL, the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė signed the amendments to the Law on Equal Opportunities into the law on 24th July, 2017. The amendments in question were passed by the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania on 11th July, 2017 and establish a definition of “family members” that is inconsistent with other national laws and could lead to potential discrimination of couples from EU countries, who have entered into registered partnerships.

Under the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, the President has the right to veto any law approved by the Parliament and to return it for further considerations. However, the President has decided to sign the proposed amendments into the law without any further considerations.

The amended Law on Equal Opportunities defines family members of citizens of the Member States of the European Union (EU) and of the Member States of the European Economic Area (EEA) as “spouses or direct descendants, who are younger than 21 years old or who are dependents, including the direct descendants of the spouse, who are younger than 21 years old or who are dependents, or dependent relatives of lineal descendant of the citizen of a Member State of the European Union or a Member State of the EEA or of spouse.” In essence it means that the adopted amendments deliberately excludes registered partners from the scope of definition of “family members”.

The aim of the amendments to the Law on Equal Opportunities is to transpose the Directive 2014/54/EU into the national law. The Directive recognizes “family members” as they are defined in the Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States. Since the amended Law on Equal Opportunities does not contain any references to “registered partnerships”, different national laws now define “family members” differently. The definition of “family members” of citizens of the EU Member States and EEA Member States (which include persons with whom the registered partnerships are concluded) is established in the Article 2.4 of the Law on Legal Status of Foreign Citizens, as well as in the Article 5.1.7 of the Law on Monetary Assistance in the Event of Death and Article 1.2.7 of the Law on Child Benefits.

In its appeal to the President, the association LGL stressed that transposing the definition of “family members” to include registered partners would not obligate Lithuanian authorities to register partnerships between same-sex or different-sex couples. However, such partnerships are registered in other EU Member States, i.e. Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden. The Directive 2014/54/EU prohibits discrimination of EU citizens and their family members based on their nationality. Since the proposed amendments were signed into the law, the registered partners of citizens from countries where partnerships are legal will not be recognized as family members and will not be able to file complaint before the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson regarding discrimination based on nationality.

Furthermore, in the “List of Actions by the European Commission to Advance LGBTI Equality”, the European Commission indicates its goal to seek for EU legislation to facilitate the daily lives of citizens living in a Member State other than that of their origin. For example, the Commission commits itself “to ensure that the specific issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity are properly taken into consideration in the transposition and implementation of Directive 2004/38 on the right of EU citizens to move and reside freely within EU countries”. Unfortunately, the Lithuanian Parliament and the President have deliberately chosen to ignore these commitments towards same-sex families by the European Commission.

“It is discouraging to see that the Lithuanian President has missed the opportunity to protect the interests of citizens of our strategic EU partners. By signing the amendments to the Law on Equal Opportunities, the President clearly indicated that the registered partners of citizens of EU and EEA Member States are not considered as family members in Lithuania. This means that registered partners are at greater risk of discrimination based on nationality. It is very difficult to comprehend the level of homophobia prevalent within the highest political levels in Lithuania,” stressed Vladimir Simonko, Executive Director of LGL.

In February, 2013 the Lithuanian President claimed that discussions on civil partnerships for same-sex couples in Lithuania were “premature”. In March, 2015 the Lithuanian President said that Lithuanian society needs a “wider discussion” on the introduction of same-sex partnerships. However, in May, 2015 the Lithuanian President insistently, and rather gracelessly, refused to answer questions about LGBT* rights in Lithuania during an interview with a Latvian journalist.