The First Same-Sex Family in Estonia Was Granted a Common Last Name

Over a year ago, Kadri and Heleri (names changed) wished to take up Kadri’s last name. They had already entered a registered partnership contract, and wanted to have a common family identity.  Estonian Ministry of the Interior refused to grant the name change and the couple turned to the Estonian Human Rights Centre for help. Soon after, the case was taken to court with aid from the Centre and lawyers. Today, we can finally announce that Kadri and Heleri have become the first same-sex family in Estonia to receive a common last name.

As a result of meetings and negotiations held in January 2023, Ministry of the Interior reviewed the practice of granting a common last name stated in the Names Act. On January 27, Minister of the Interior, Lauri Läänemets, signed a protocol stating the registered partnership agreement as a basis for granting a common last name for all families. The Minister’s decision also means that Kadri’s and Heleri’s litigation reached a conclusion through compromise between the Ministry and the family. Additionally, the state has to reimburse all costs related to the litigation. On February 19, the couple received a statement from the Tallinn Vital Statistics Department that they now share a common last name.

The Minister’s decision to allow for a common last name under the registered partnership agreement is applaudable. Then again, every following Minister of Interior can enact and apply new administrative policies. “Although we celebrate the Minister’s decision and are happy for Kadri’s and Heleri’s family, the positive news interrupted a litigation which could have created an important precedent. True safety and respect for human rights would have to come from a decision by the Supreme Court of Estonia, the full implementation of the Registered Partnership Act or marriage equality. We hope to see that the new members of Parliament and the upcoming Minister of Interior will not force other same-sex couples to turn to court and that the state will be humane towards all same-sex families,” said the Centre’s Head of Strategic Litigation, Kelly Grossthal.

The complicity of the situation lies in the fact that the current Names Act allows for a common last name for spouses, but the same opportunity has not been ensured for couples in a registered partnership agreement. Such a situation is not in accordance with important human rights principles such as the right to protection from arbitrary interference with family and the right to self-determination. Since people in a registered partnership agreement live as a family and cannot be substantially differentiated from a relationship between spouses, the partners’ desire for a common last name is justified and also a reasonable cause in the context of the Names Act § 171 subparagraph 2 point 5.

The litigation was made possible thanks to lawyer Tõnis Loorits of the TRINITI law firm and our Centre’s donators. Additionally, we thank the Estonian LGBT Association for their cooperation and advice.

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