Estonia: Religious Association Restrictions of Same-Sex Couple Religious Rights
EU law on same-sex unions (SSU) expects Member States to legally recognize the family life of same-sex couples in the form of marriage, partnership, or cohabitation. The normative expectation, which in about 2010 became a principled position of the EU institutions and the European Court of Human Rights, has not been endorsed by one Western European Member State (Italy) as well as the majority of the post-Communist Member States (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia). There are a number of causes behind the failure to enact SSU laws: the legacies of the communist regimes, the prevalence of a certain interpretation of Christian doctrine, the medium level of economic affluence, and an unfavorable balance of power between the change and blocking coalitions of social, religious, and political actors. Unlike Western European countries, where the family life of same-sex unions was legally recognized primarily due to pressures from below (due to changes in public opinion and shifts in cultural values), governments and legislatures in most Central and Eastern European Member States are encouraged more from above (by the European Union and the Council of Europe). Therefore, the prospects for legal recognition of same-sex unions are slim in countries where the European normative agenda meets no significant support from domestic social values or religious and political actors. This conflict of national and EU forces is most likely to persist in Member States which are post-Soviet, culturally Orthodox, not shifted from materialist to post-materialist values, and governed by right-wing governmental coalitions.