President Volodymyr Zelensky, responding to a citizens’ petition on Tuesday calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ukraine, raised the prospect of “civil partnerships” but said that the Constitution’s definition of marriage as the union of one man and a woman could not be changed in time of war.
Mr. Zelensky answered after the petition garnered the support of more than 25,000 Ukrainians. Ukraine does not recognize the right to marriage for same-sex couples, nor does it have a law allowing them to enter into a civil union. Calls to grant these couples equal rights have grown in part because of the sacrifices of LGBTQ soldiers helping the country fight off Russia’s brutal invasion.
Under Ukrainian Defense Ministry regulations, the military must notify the parents and spouse or other close relatives of a killed soldier. But these rules do not apply to same-sex couples who cannot legally marry.
In Ukraine, same-sex couples do not have the automatic right to visit a hospitalized partner, share property, care for the children of a deceased partner, claim the body of a partner killed in war or collect state death benefits.
The petition urging Mr Zelensky to support marriage rights for same-sex couples was started by Anastasia Sovenko, 24, an English teacher from Zaporizhzhia, southern Ukraine, who identifies as bisexual .
She had said that after reading an article about heterosexual soldiers rushing to marry their partners before going to war, she felt sad, angry and frustrated that LGBTQ soldiers did not have that option.
Mr. Zelensky, in his response, wrote that democratic societies are measured in part by how well they uphold equal rights for all citizens and that “every citizen is an indivisible part of civil society, for whom all rights and freedoms set in the Constitution of Ukraine extends.
“All people are free and equal in dignity and rights,” he wrote.
Mr Zelensky, however, noted that the Constitution of Ukraine states that “marriage is based on the free consent of a woman and a man”, and said the document could not be changed during a state of martial law, that he declared in Februaryafter the invasion of Russia.
At the same time, Mr. Zelensky wrote, the government had “worked out options for a solution regarding the legalization in Ukraine of civil partnerships registered under the auspices of the work on the confirmation and protection of human rights and freedoms” .
He added that he had asked Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal to consider the issue raised by the petition and report on his findings.
“The response is more positive than it could have been,” Inna Sovsounan opposition MP from the liberal Holos party, which promotes LGBTQ rights, wrote about Facebook. “But at the same time – not clear enough.”
Because constitutional amendments are now impossible, she wrote, civil partnerships would be an “acceptable interim alternative.”
“However, where are the options the president is talking about?” Ms. Sovsun wrote. “Why are they not presented for discussion and not submitted to Parliament?”
Ms. Sovenko, the author of the petition, said she was happy that Mr. Zelensky had mentioned civil partnership for same-sex couples.
“This is the start,” she wrote in an email. She said she was “hopeful” that after the war the government would give same-sex couples the opportunity to marry.
“I’m proud the response wasn’t all negative,” she said, “and I’m really glad it happened.”
The trend towards same-sex marriage is meeting with significant resistance in a country where Eastern Orthodox religion and traditional sexual mores are deeply embedded in the social fabric. Opponents include some conservative members of Mr Zelensky’s own party, who have called for a law punishing “gay propaganda”.
But gay rights advocates in Ukraine hope Mr Zelensky will eventually support same-sex marriage rights, helping the country restore its liberal image as it seeks to rejoin the European Union and move closer to the West.
Maham Javaid and Dan Bilefsky contributed report. David Kurkovskiy contributed a translation.