For the first time in Lithuania’s history, three same-sex couples are going to court to defend their right to start a family and register their marriage in Lithuania. According to the Association of Tolerant Youth, which initiated these strategic cases, they aim to resolve the main obstacles in recognizing and regulating these couples’ relationships.
“When politics go bankrupt, when promises made by politicians are not implemented, citizens are forced to defend their rights in the courts,” said Artūras Rudomanskis, chairman of the Tolerant Youth Association.
According to the lawyer who is leading the case, Aivaras Žilvinskas, the lawsuits are demanding the registration of same-sex civil partnerships, the inclusion of foreign marriages in the civil registry in Lithuania, and the establishment of a precedent that same-sex couples in Lithuania to enter into and register a marriage through a court procedure.
“The family is the foundation of society and the state, and the foundation of the family is love, regardless of gender. In a democracy, the right to love and to found a family must be guaranteed to every person. For a long time, it has been misinterpreted that the Lithuanian Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage, but this is a myth that we will try to dispel in court. Especially since more than half of the EU countries have already legalised same-sex marriage. The court is being asked to recognise that the same-sex couples are families and to order the civil registry office to register a civil partnership in one case and a marriage in the other,” says Aivaras Žilvinskas.
According to the lawyer, by refusing to recognise and register same-sex families, the state is in breach of its international obligations, which have just been reiterated by the European Court of Human Rights in the case Fedotova v. Russia. However, even without the exhortations of international organisations, it should be borne in mind that the Lithuanian Constitution also enshrines the equality of all persons before the law and the right of all persons to found a family.
Martynas Norbutas, one of the applicants in the marriage registration case, argues that a victory in the courts would finally give same-sex families legal security.
“First and foremost, marriage would give LGBTQ+ families equal protection and allow people to have peace of mind about their loved ones if something were to happen to them. Last but not least, it is a way to express your feelings and show commitment to your partner,” says Norbutas.
Monika Antanaitytė, an expert in the project JUST EU: equality and justice for LGBTI citizens through strategic litigation and a representative of the National LGBT rights organisation LGL, which joined this initiative in solidarity and sees the sense in taking all possible measures to defend citizens’ rights.
“Strategic litigation is an important, and often the only accessible tool for people whose human rights and legitimate expectations remain outside political priorities. That is why we support this initiative, sharing our knowledge and experience of our international partners in the pursuit of equal rights for individuals.” says Antanaitytė.
The initiation of these strategic cases has been initiated and financially supported by the Tolerant Youth Association and the individuals who support its activities. The organisation hopes that these cases will raise awareness among the public and politicians, and help to achieve what politicians fail to deliver.
Cases concerning recognition of same-sex marriage and registration of a same-sex marriage conducted abroad are currently being held at the the District Court.
The Vilnius City District Court ruling of April 21, 2023 concerning partnership registration will be appealed before Vilnius Regional Court. Notably, the first instance court did not refer to the decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in the case Fedotova v. Russia, stating that “the ECtHR had not heard Russia, which led the court to doubt whether the ECtHR process was fair”.
Such arguments by Vilnius District Court judge Rima Bražinskienė were widely criticized by the civil society and legal professionals alike, questioning judge’s impartiality, competencies as well as loyalty to the Lithuanian Republic.
JUST EU: equality and justice for LGBTI citizens through strategic litigation is a project which aims to consolidate expert efforts and raise public awareness of the potential of strategic litigation to achieve both redress for violated rights and advance human rights in the areas of family recognition, consumer protection, labour rights and other areas.
JUST EU: equality and justice for LGBTI citizens through strategic litigation. is funded by the Justice Programme of the European Union.
Photo courtesy: Augustas Didžgalvis