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Wednesday 16.01.2019 | Name days: Lida, Lidija
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ECJ ruling gives gay couples hope for Lithuania, but reality check is harsh

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Lithuania’s human rights non-governmental organisations hope the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) Tuesday ruling will, sooner or later, clear the barriers for gays from third countries, married to EU citizens, to get residency in Lithuania, an EU member state.

The Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the right of residency in any EU member state, including Lithuania, even if it does not recognize gay marriages.

The ruling followed the legal evaluation of the EU legal provisions regarding foreigners’ residency in EU member states. The Court ruled that the term ‘spouse’ within the meaning of the provisions of EU law on freedom of residence for EU citizens and their family members includes spouses of the same sex.

«As far as we know, Lithuania’s Migration Department has so far rejected applications for the reunion of same-sex spouses, based on the fact that Lithuanian laws do not allow same-sex marriages,» Kristina Normantaitė, project manager at the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, said.

«Following the European Court of Justice’s ruling in the Coman case, such a practice should change… The term «spouse» in the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens will have to be interpreted as also including same-sex spouses,» she added.

«We commend the ruling of the European Court of Justice and call on Lithuanian authorities to abide by it, although this is seemingly improbable in Lithuania today,» Arturas Rudomanskis, chairman of Lithuania’s Association of Tolerant Youth, told BNN.

The Ministry of the Interior, controlling activity of the Migration Department, says it wants to get first acquainted with the ECJ ruling before making any political decisions.

«The principal stance of the Ministry is that Lithuania, sooner or later, will have to adjust its legislation to the ECJ ruling. However, the Ministry emphasizes that the ruling has nothing to do with legalizing same-sex partnerships in any form in Lithuania,» Karolis Vaitkevičius, spokesman for the interior minister, told BNN Lithuania. He added: «First of all, we need to get acquainted with the ruling and then take some action.»

The ECJ ruled that Romanian and American male citizens who got married in Brussels in 2010 and decided to move to Romania two years later have the same residency rights as other married couples.

Homophobic remarks and slur is far away from being a rarity in Lithuania. In fact, Lithuania remains as one of the European Union’s most homophobic countries, different surveys show.

A survey issued by the European Commission last year showed that Lithuanians in general are more opposed to giving gay, lesbian and bisexual people the same rights as heterosexual people than the rest of the EU. According to the same survey, only a quarter – 24 per cent- of the Lithuanians support legalization of same-sex marriage in Europe, while the figures for EU as a whole is 61 per cent.

Lithuania has however scored better in a survey on LGBT rights this year but still lags behind many European Union countries.

ILGA-Europe, an association defending rights of sexual minorities, ranked Lithuania 37th out of 49 countries in its annual report. Lithuania inched up from 39th place last year.

ILGA-Europe was assessing equality in different areas on a scale of 0 to 100 per cent, where 0 means significant breaches of human rights, while 100 percent mean absolute equality. The situation in equality of LGBTI people in Latvia has been assessed as 16.1 per cent, which is lower than 17 percent scored last year.

The second lowest assessment was given to Poland (18.2 per cent), followed by Lithuania (20.7 per cent), and Romania (21.1 per cent). Estonia’s assessment has risen by 6 percentage points to 39.3 per cent.

ILGA-Europe has given 0 assessment to Latvia in the category of Hate Crime and Hate Speech. The organization believes Latvia has no policy tackling hate crime and hate speech targeting LGBT people.

Latvia also got low assessment in the category of Family (7.4 per cent), surveying equality of LGBTI people in relation to registering partnerships, adoption and other family related matters.

The highest equality score was recorded in Malta, Belgium, Norway, the UK, Finland and France.

Since the restoration of Lithuania’s independence in 1990/91, emphasis on human rights and minority protection has increased, and Lithuanians have adapted to broader European social, economic and political values. At the same time, in a country where nearly 80 per cent of the people consider themselves catholic, conservative Catholic traditions still influence the way people live their life. As a result, even though Lithuania decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, marriage or registered partnership is still not possible.

«The most significant improvement is the increased visibility of Lithuania’s LGBT community, which in 2004 was non-existent,» says Tomas Raskevi

ius, who is a policy coordinator at the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL), Lithuania’s largest NGO supporting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. “Visibility has helped LGBTs accept themselves, and is crucial in developing tolerance and respect amongst the general Lithuanian public,» Tomas adds.

Although homophobia is wide-spread in Lithuania, only rarely it receives attention as a rule. One of the most vivid exceptions from the rule was the spring of 2016, when a brave graduate student (12th grader) at a secondary school in a provincial town of Telšiai in north-western Lithuania posted on her Facebook account a slate of clandestinely taken photos from her class of faith (religion).

In the slides, the teacher likened loathsomely gays to cannibals, serial killers and abhorrent creatures unworthy a living on God’s planet Earth.

The teacher promulgated that nearly all serial killers with the propensity for cannibalism were gay men, that up to 40 per cent of child sexual abusers have homosexual proclivity and that around 90 percent of gay men suffer from fecal incontinence due to practicing of fisting. This is just a couple of the most preposterous allegations against gay people the faith teacher has ostensibly made.

As the posts by Indre Pabijonavičiūtė, the graduate student, went viral, the internet exploded with comments chiding the teacher, Loreta Raudytė, and, for the most part, praising her for speaking out against what many believe is ubiquitous «political correctness» on the issue of homosexuality.

Both the school’s principle and the city mayor as well as the-then the Lithuanian Education minister, were quick to respond, questioning or denouncing the teacher’s rendition of the subject of homosexuality and gay lifestyle. However, the homophobic teacher was not punished.

The underlying issue of what may seem a single case of homophobia in Lithuanian hinterland is far more acute – wide-spread homophobia and absence of sexual education – one proper to the modern age – at schools.

«Indeed, being gay in Lithuania is not tantamount to being gay in a third world country, yet many homosexuals, especially those who do not hide it or are effeminate, are subject to verbal and physical abuse, particularly in the sticks. Indre did admit to us that she had been warned of «legal consequences» from a local judge if she continues speaking about the teacher,» Rudomanskis told.

Until recently, two sexual education programmes – one on Preparing for Family and the other on Health Nurturing – were part of the school curricula, but they were optional, meaning the schools could choose whether to teach them or not.

Besides, they were all mainly about chastity, not about providing health tips of sexual life and acquainting the schoolchildren with non-traditional sexual orientations.

Aušrinė Pavilionienė, former MP and a staunch LGBT rights supporter, believes that no turnaround on the issue of sexual education and homophobia can be expected in Lithuania.

«Unfortunately, our legislation, and, specifically, the Ministry of Education, is teeming with conservatives and bureaucrats who reflect the views of the dogmatic Lithuanian Catholic Church,» the activist excoriated the Church and the Lithuanian authorities.

Rudomanskis, of the TJA, says that in improving the situation of local LGBT community, Lithuania first needs to remove the discriminatory provisions in the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information.

«It is preposterous that the law deems any information about homosexuality and gays detrimental to youth…Unless it gets changes, it makes no sense to speak of a better situation,» the TJA leader underscored.


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