Sunday, December 31, 2023

Same-sex couples fight for civil unions to be legalised in Ukraine

A Ukrainian couple campaigning for marital equality has called on the Kyiv government to act on a draft civil union law that would give same-sex partnerships legal status.

“I don’t understand why, if there are people that are ready to sacrifice their lives for the country, for the state, the state cannot ensure their families are protected and their families have support,” said Stanislava Petlytsia, a 27-year-old LGBTQI+ activist in Kharkiv.

“We deserve it as much as anyone else,” she added.

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Petlytsia and her partner Alina Shevchenko, 32, who has served in the army since 2016 and is now a captain, have become part of the growing discussion over the lack of legal rights for LGBTQI+ people in Ukraine.

Months after Russia’s invasion, a citizen petition calling for the legalisation of same-sex marriages received more than 25,000 signatures, prompting a response from Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who said constitutional changes for same-sex marriage could not be made during wartime.

In early 2023 a draft civil union law was introduced to parliament that would give same-sex partnerships legal status. The law would mean official recognition for partners of soldiers who are killed, the right to make medical decisions if their loved ones are injured and the ability to collect death benefits from the state.

“It is important that the international community supports Ukraine to adopt legislation that recognises the rights of LGBTI couples and ensures that two people of any gender can create a family in safety and dignity,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s director for eastern Europe and central Asia.

Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who submitted the draft bill in March, said the political response has been diverse, but that while she expected the process to be difficult, it has turned out more positive than she anticipated. The government had committed to approve the bill by the end of 2023, according to the European Commission.

“Since we introduced the bill, my belief that it will get passed is growing stronger,” said Sovsun. “We will get it done. The question is, when?”

In June this year, the European court of human rights (ECHR) ruled that a same-sex couple who tried unsuccessfully to get married in Ukraine suffered discrimination. The court ruled that Ukraine had violated articles on discrimination and the right to private and family life.

“We don’t want to be seen as [a country that] violates the ECHR, so we need to do something about that,” added Sovsun.

The civil union law would be crucial for couples such as Petlytsia and Shevchenko, who are unable to legally wed. The couple held a symbolic wedding in August as part of Kharkiv’s Pride celebrations. While their relatives were not invited, friends and colleagues attended, as they highlighted LGBTQI+ rights for those fighting for the country.

“It makes us worried, because we do all we can to push for it and still it’s not happening,” said Petlytsia, speaking via a translator from the couple’s home in Kharkiv.

“It’s frustrating to see how long it takes, and quite worrying [that we don’t know if] we will get the result in the end,” she added.

While attitudes towards the community have improved in recent years – with 58% of Ukrainians feeling positive or neutral towards their LGBTQI+ compatriots, according to a recent survey – Shevchenko said the societal discussions have taken longer to penetrate the conservative and patriarchal military.

“[The] military is two steps behind. Things happen more slowly there,” she said. Shevchenko’s brigade defended Kharkiv and has moved east since the invasion.

“I think it’s important that Ukraine gets support and that Ukraine is remembered not only as the country that was attacked by Russia but also the country with its own culture,” said Petlytsia.

“We are not only LGBTI people, we are also Ukrainians. We want to create a family, we want to have our rights while we’re still alive.”

Zelenskiy’s office has been approached for comment.