Tallinn, Estonia, October 22, 2020
Leaders of Estonia’s Center, Conservative People’s, and Fatherland coalition parties signed a joint statement in Tallinn yesterday to hold a referendum on marriage as the union of a man and woman next spring.
The referendum was already called for in the 2019 coalition agreement between the parties.
The statement was made in the context of a crisis in the government caused by recent provocative statements from Estonian Interior Minister Marta Helme, reports Interfax-Religion.
In an interview with Deutsche Welles last week, Helme explained that the government intends to hold a marriage referendum because “the state cannot survive without children and without morals.” He also stated that is personally “unfriendly” towards homosexuals and advised sexual minorities to “flee to Sweden” where they are more warmly welcomed.
His statements caused discontent among a number of political figures and members of the public, and a crisis in the coalition itself. Prime Minister Ratas criticized his remarks and opposition leaders demanded his resignation. President Kersti Kaljulaid, who supports same-sex marriage, stated that “a minister with such views is not suitable for the government of the Republic of Estonia; the people of Estonia deserve better.”
Though there have been calls to abandon the idea of a referendum, the government will move ahead with it in the spring, though it will have to tread carefully.
“A popular vote can only be held when searching for common ground, peacefully and without provoking public groups. We will not allow any person to be humiliated or attacked. The coalition is unequivocally opposed to hate speech. We want to run a campaign focused on arguments ... avoiding insults and threatening rhetoric and behavior,” PM Ratas read out in a statement.
In 2016, Estonia became the first ex-soviet state to recognize same-sex unions. In December of that year, a court recognized a same-sex marriage performed in Sweden, which was entered into the population registry the next month.
The Estonian Council of Churches, including the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, has called for a constitutional defense of traditional marriage.