Estonian Human Rights Centre: families who have entered into a cohabitation agreement must have the right to a common surname

Estonia continues to mistreat families with same-sex partners because they do not allow
couples who have signed a cohabitation agreement to take a common surname. This is
happening all the while same-sex couples do not yet have the right to marry under
Estonian laws. Kadri and Heleri contacted the Estonian Human Rights Centre because
they wanted to use Kadri’s last name after signing a cohabitation agreement to have a
shared family identity when deciding to have future children. Since the Ministry of Inside
Affairs refused to give the name, the couple went to court with the support of the centre
and the lawyers Liina Käis and Tõnis Loorits of the Fort law office. Donate in support of
the legal route conveniently here.

The Names Act today does not allow a common surname in case of registered
cohabitation. At the same time, the Supreme Court has confirmed in several rulings that
the fundamental right to the family also extends to same-sex couples who live in a
registered partnership. Therefore, according to the centre, the discriminatory exclusion
from the regulation of common surnames is contrary to the Consitution – and probably to
the European Convention on Human Rights. “A family is a family, and therefore it does
not matter what gender the two people who make up a family in Estonia are. Couples
with same-sex partners who have entered into a cohabitation agreement must have the
opportunity to take the same last name,” explains Egert Rünne, head of the Estonian
Human Rights Centre.

Today, however, the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not consider the signing of a
cohabitation agreement to be a valid reason when it comes to the Names Act. Therefore
no common name has been given to any cohabiting family. The Human Rights Centre
recognises that this approach is not in line with generally accepted human rights norms.

“Since the people who have entered into a cohabitation agreement live together as a
family, and their relationship is essentially no different from that of spouses, the desire
of the partners to share a common surname is fully justified and can also be treated as
a valid reason in the sense of § 171 subsection 2 point 5 of the Names Act,” explains
Kelly Grossthal, head of the centre’s strategic litigation department.
In addition, the Human Rights Centre has repeatedly explained that in today’s
democratic and human rights-respecting societies, a person’s identity, including their
nationality or religion, gender or sexual identity and other parts of their identity, is

primarily defined by the person themself. The regulation of names should also be based
on that. A name plays an essential part in a person’s private and family life and can be
related to self-identification as part of a national, ethnic, or cultural group. Thus, the
regulation of names must be guided by human rights, including the right to a name, an
identity, and the right to the immunity of private and family life.

The author of the photo is Helen Kuuse.

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