Today’s Supreme Court decision is historic

Press release

The Supreme Court today decided that Sarah and Kristiina Raud, the Estonian-American lesbian couple, who had previously been forced to be apart, can live together in Estonia until the end of the court proceedings.

The Supreme Court explained in its decision today that same sex couples also have the right to protection of family life in Estonia. The Chancellor of Justice had previously reached a similar conclusion, but it is the first time that the rights of same sex couples have been recognized on Supreme Court level. This is an important step towards an Estonia that respects human rights of all people.

With today’s decision the Supreme Court took a clear stand that although the Family Law Act does not allow persons of the same sex to enter into marriages, it does not preclude recognition of marriages that have been concluded elsewhere in the world. In addition, the Supreme Court explained in its historic decision that in the context of the Constitution protection of family life from interference by the state has not been made conditional on the sex of the members of the family or their sexual orientation.

“Today’s decision of the court of the highest instance is both significant and positive. It will give Kristiina and Sarah security that they can live together at least until the end of the main proceedings. At the same time, it is also a milestone in a long court marathon, since the dispute in the Circuit Court continues. There the issue is whether Sarah has the right to receive a residence permit on the basis of a marriage legally concluded in the U.S.,” said Kari Käsper, the Executive Director of the Estonian Human Rights Centre.

Sarah and Kristiina Raud would like to thank Hedman Partners Attorneys-at-Law and Attorney-at-Law Liisa Linna, as well as all their supporters and people who have donated money to the Estonian Human Rights Centre for solving their case as well as other similar complicated cases.

An overview of the court proceedings:

In 2015 Sarah and Kristiina Raud concluded a legal marriage in the United States, but wished to start living together in Estonia in 2016. Since a foreigner can apply for a residence permit upon marrying an Estonian citizen, Sarah Raud applied for it last year at the PPA (the Police and Border Guard Board). The PPA, however, refused to issue a residence permit, as their interpretation of the Aliens Act does not foresee issuing residence permits to spouses of the same sex. 

The situation that had come about meant for the couple that Sarah could stay in Estonia for just three months at a time on a tourist visa, after which she was not allowed to enter the country for three months. The couple went to court at the end of last year with the support of the Estonian Human Rights Centre and numerous supporters, wishing that Sarah could live in Estonia permanently. 

The court proceedings are currently ongoing and have reached the Circuit Court. In April of this year another three months of Sarah’s stay in Estonia would have been up and she would have been forced to leave Estonia again. As constantly living apart is very exhausting for the couple, they asked the court to allow Sarah to stay in Estonia until the end of the proceedings in the course of interim measures.

Tallinn Circuit Court decided to satisfy the application regarding interim measures in late March and obligated the PPA to issue Sarah a residence permit until the end of the proceedings. The court found that issuing her a residence permit does not harm anybody else, while the current legal, financial and emotional uncertainty may cause the couple insurmountable difficulties. The PPA then issued Sarah an Estonian residence permit, but decided to challenge the Circuit Court’s order in the Supreme Court.

Media contact:
Ilmar Kahro
Estonian Human Rights Center

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