The Lithuanian parliament has rejected a partnership bill that would have recognised same-sex unions.
The bill failed to pass the first reading with 63 MPs voting in favour, 58 voting against and seven abstaining.
Parliament Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen presented the bill, urging MPs to support it and “take the first step that we have been putting off for 20 years”.
However, most of the opposition groups voted against the partnership bill, including all members of the Labour Party group and the Regions Group, 21 MPs of the Farmers and Greens Union, five social democrats and two non-attached MPs.
The law was also opposed by 12 conservative (TS-LKD) MPs and two liberals of the Liberal Movement.
However, after the first vote, MPs decided that rather than outright rejecting the partnership bill, it should be sent back to its authors for improvements. The motion was passed by a vote of 75 against 52.
Gender-neutral partnership was the flagship platform issue of the liberal Freedom Party.
The bill, tabled last Friday, defines a civil partnership as “the fact of cohabitation of two persons (partners), registered in accordance with the procedure established by legal acts, for the purpose of establishing and (or) developing, and protecting the relationship of the partners”. Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples could enter into civil partnership.
Same-sex partnership remains a contested issue in the country, with opponents arguing that it would undermine traditional family. Crucially, the civil partnership bill does not make reference to “family” and does not allow partners to adopt children.
Lithuania currently does not recognise civil partnership of either same-sex or opposite-sex couples.
Not the end
Freedom Party MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, the main author of the bill, said after the vote that civil partnership would be considered again in the parliament's autumn session.
“Never before has there been so much support for these relationships [same-sex unions]. We have 63 votes, just two votes short [of passing the bill],” Raskevičius told reporters on Tuesday. “We will bring back the bill in the autumn session with improvements in line with the Legal Department's suggestions and comments from our colleagues.”
“The fight for human rights is a journey and nobody has promised that it's going to be easy, but I'm very glad that we can have a dignified and constructive discussion, and I'm sure that we're moving forward,” Raskevicius said.
Freedom Party leader Aušrinė Armonaitė admitted she was disappointed by the outcome of the vote. “In the background of hate and disinformation, the bill failed,” she told reporters.
“This isn't the end,” she added. “We'll continue to strive for change so that all people are equal before the law.”
Meanwhile opposition leader Saulius Skvernelis said the bill was rejected because its authors did not seek compromise with opponents of same-sex partnership.
“If they want to really resolve these issues, they need to sit down with the opposition, as we are also ready to discuss and we have specific proposals, and to look for agreement. But if they only want to demonstrate their reinforced unity, we see that they fail to do such things,” Skvernelis told reporters on Tuesday.
Skvernelis said there was no unity within the ruling block.
“The ruling parties probably did not have enough internal discussion either and such a law will definitely not be bulldozed through,” he said, adding that the opposition could back an amanded bill.
According to Armonaitė, however, many compromises were already made while drafting the law.