Breaking Free: Legal Developments for LGBT Rights in Ukraine
For many years since Ukraine restored its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country was perceived as a state not willing to support its LGBTQ+ community - much as had been the case in the times of the USSR. During that time, adult males who engaged in homosexual activity were subject to criminal prosecution, and could be sentenced to up to one year in prison or three years of exile. Although there was no formal prosecution for sexual contact between women, lesbian women nevertheless had to undergo compulsory mental health treatment due to their sexual orientation. Although homosexual acts were made legal in Ukraine at the end of 1991, homosexual persons currently do not (fully) share the same rights as their heterosexual compatriots. For more than 30 years, although violence against LGBTQ+ people was not widely observed, the government did not implement any law that would recognize same-sex marriages. It was passive, in this regard.
Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the LGBTQ+ community, in general, has experienced the same problems as the rest of Ukrainian society. Some of the representatives of the community have joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine to defend Ukraine and its European values. The majority of openly LGBTQ+ military staff report a generally tolerant attitude towards them from their fellow service personnel, although there have also been some reported cases of homophobia. LGBTQ+ human rights center NashSvit has noted that the higher command of the military does pay attention to such incidents and attempts to confront all such instances.
For the last 2 years, Ukraine has made some improvements in regard to the LGBTQ+ situation - despite the Russian invasion - in terms of developing LGBTQ+ community rights in its country. Prior to the invasion, in December 2022, the Ukrainian parliament voted for the law “On Media”, which prohibited publicly disseminating statements that incite discrimination or oppression against individuals and their communities on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Such actions were henceforth classified as significant violations of personal dignity before the law and entailed fines in the amount of ‘between five and ten times’ the month minimum wage of 6700 UAH (around 167 euro). This step is an important pavestone in the road towards ultimate compliance with the requirements and criteria of the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive, and as a contribution to the Human Rights component of the political criterion of the Copenhagen criteria. This proved that, with an eye toward satisfying the conditions necessary for Ukraine's integration into the EU, the President and the governing administration could push the parliament to enact such laws despite lobbying by religious groups in opposition. Further, homophobic bills have no chance of being passed by the Ukrainian Parliament, according to recent precedent - the draft legislation “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts (Regarding the Protection of Children’s Rihts to a Safe Information Space)” was submitted for consideration in 2012. With the aim of prohibiting the provision of information about homosexuality to residents of Ukraine, the bill was not included in the agenda of the Parliament and was withdrawn from consideration after the Revolution of Dignity in 2013. Still, active measures to protect LGBTQ+ rights must have the active support of the government - starting with the Office of the President of Ukraine, as LGBTQ+ Human Rights Center reports.
Recent sociological polls reveal that Ukrainian society's attitude toward LGBTQ+ individuals has significantly improved over the past several years, and that those who oppose their being granted equal rights are now reduced in number. A GfK Ukraine survey conducted in May 2013 indicated that 79% of respondents were against any type of recognition, while 4.6% supported same-sex marriage and 16% supported other forms of acknowledgment. Recently, 57.8 percent of respondents to a poll conducted in June 2022 approve same-sex unions. Shortly after the invasion, an initiative to legalize same-sex marriages was introduced. Article 51 of Ukraine's 1996 constitution specifies that "marriage is based on the free consent of a woman and a man." A petition to change this provision gained 25,000 signatures, which was enough to necessitate a presidential review. However, President Zelenskyy's office stated that according to the basic law, the constitution of Ukraine “cannot be changed during a state of war or emergency.”
With this said, and despite the (visible) existing progress achieved, there remains an opportunity to get a registered partnership alternative recognized by law, which is currently in the process of discussion. Since it is not regarded as full marriage, this type of partnership can be formed by Ukrainians of the same or different sexes. This is not a traditional marriage, because not only couples but also friends who have a common household can sign a partnership - for example, in a case when the person has lost all of their family members and wishes a close friend the right to access them in a hospital in intensive care. In fact, such people will become formal relatives to each other, however, the question of if such people can adopt kids remains unclear and may require further debate.
The result of the intended LGBTQ+ protections in the war with Russia is particularly important for Ukraine. Vladimir Putin has presented his country's invasion as an existential holy war which opposes Ukraine and Ukrainians - who Russia perceives to favour a morally-deficient West against Russia's ‘blood-and-soil’ religious, political, and social ideals. Putin has referred to LGBTQ+ individuals as "vessels of Western amorality," targeted them for abuse and condemnation in Russia, and passed legislation prohibiting children from discovering any media that supports LGBTQ+ identities. “The decision will allow us to protect children and the country’s future from the darkness spread by the United States and European states,” declared Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament (the State Duma), writing on social media. Any legal protection presently afforded to LGBTQ+ individuals in Ukraine would be interpreted as a cultural rebuke of Putin's worldview.
Overall, Ukraine has experienced difficulty legalizing same-sex marriage due to various factors such as war, propaganda, and the unwillingness of some in the political and social sphere to support such idea. However, positive dynamics are reflected in terms of public and governmental supports. Only time will tell how long the Registered Partnership Law will take to be implemented, what it will look like, and how the rights of the LGBT community will improve after the war.
- LGBTQ situation in Ukraine in 2022 / Nash Svit Center, page 1, para 2, also page 38:
- Emil Edenborg, “Putin’s Anti-Gay War On Ukraine” : https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/putins-anti-gay-war-on-ukraine/
- Amanda Coakley, “The LGBTQ rights debate is testing Ukraine’s commitment to Europe”: https://www.codastory.com/disinformation/ukraine-lgbtq-soldiers/.
- LGBT Human Rights Center "OUR WORLD". Review (2022):https://gay.org.ua/blog/2023/02/09/bytva-za-voliu-stanovyshche-lhbtk-v-ukraini-u-2022-rotsi/.
- LGBT Human Rights Center "OUR WORLD". Review (2012): https://www.gay.org.ua/publications/nashmir2012engl.pdf .
- Verkhovna Rada Of Ukraine. The Law On Media: https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/Card/3115.
January 24 2024
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