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  • 21 October 2022 : Law on the Autocephalous Status of the Latvian Orthodox Church

The problem with the position of the Latvian Orthodox Church, as subordinate to the Moscow patriarchy, arose when Russia commenced its war in Ukraine on 24th February 2022, an event which was publicly supported in an active way by Patriarch Kirill in Moscow.

On 5th September 2022, the President of the Republic of Latvia submitted a draft law to the Saeima [the Latvian Parliament], which provided for changes to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church. The President’s view was that the State could ensure the self-dependence and independence of the Latvian Orthodox Church by these amendments, i.e., with the coming into force of the law, any influence or power of the Moscow Patriarchate over the Latvian Orthodox Church would be eliminated. The draft law was considered by all competent state institutions : the National Security Council, the Saeima’s National Security Committee and the Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee.

The leaders of the Latvian Orthodox Church did not wish to become involved in the discussions about the draft law initiated by the State President. From views expressed by various sources, the conclusion could be reached that some of the clergy would willingly support a separation from the Moscow Patriarchate. Ringolds Balodis, a member of the European Consortium for Church and State, explained that the adoption of such a draft law without the involvement of the Latvian Orthodox Church would be unlawful. The State President’s adviser on legal policy issues pointed out that canonical rights, in which canons allowing for and accepting the intervention of the State in the life of the Church can be found, were taken into account in developing the draft law.

The President asked the Saeima to review the submitted draft law as a matter of urgency. On 8th September 2022, the Saeima adopted the amendments to the Law on the Latvian Orthodox Church (73 of the 100 members voted in favour, 3 against and 1 abstained), and they came into force on 10th September 2022. The amendments to the law state that the Latvian Orthodox Church, and all of its dioceses, congregations and institutions, is completely self-dependent and independent of any Church authority outside of Latvia. Section 3 declares that the Law secures the autocephalous status of the Church to the full extent. The amendments to the Law mean that, from the position of the State, the autocephalous status of the Latvian Orthodox Church is recognized expresis verbis. A rule has been included in the Law that gives the Church responsibility for the appointment to office (as well as dismissal) of its head, any metropolitan, archbishop or bishop, informing the Chancery of the President of Latvia in writing, which then announces the decision in the official publication, Latvijas Vēstnesis.

  • February 2022 : Debate on the draft law on civil union in Latvia

In 2020, the mother of a newborn child applied to the Constitutional Court as her female partner was unable to obtain the ten-day leave which, according to the Labour Law, has to be granted to the child’s father. The applicant emphasised that the contested provision is contrary to the best interests of the child, since it prevents the providing of physical and emotional support to the partner and her child.
The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia ruled that the provision of the Labour Law, in so far as it does not provide protection and support for the mother’s partner due to the birth of the child, does not comply with Article 110 of the Constitution of Latvia (Satversme). Given that the legislator has not established a legal framework for family relationships between same-sex partners and has not adopted measures for social and economic protection and support of same-sex partner families on the occasion of the birth of a child, the Constitutional Court tasked the legislator with arranging the Labour Law provisions, as appropriate, to also ensure legal, social and economic protection of same-sex partners.

On February 2022, the Draft Law on Civil Union, which allows registration of same-sex partnerships in Latvia, was tabled to the Saeima (Parliament) committees for discussion. The following Christian denominations of Latvia object to the draft law : the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church of Latvia, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, the Union of Baptist Churches in Latvia, the Old Believer Pomorian Church of Latvia, the Latvian Pentecostal Church Association, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Latvia United Methodist Church. The leaders of these Christian denominations sent to the members of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia an "Appeal regarding the draft Law on Civil Union", pointing out that the draft law obscures Article 110 of Satversme, which protects the institution of marriage and family, and puts children’s rights to grow up together with their biological parents at risk. The appeal emphasises that it is in the best interests of the child to grow up in a family where his/her father is a male and the mother a female. The obligation of the state and each citizen is to support and strengthen, as far as possible, such a union. The introduction of registered partnerships with regard to both homosexual and heterosexual couples would also lead to the recognition of same-sex marriages in Latvia.

Stating the reasons for their objections, the leaders of the Christian denominations pointed out that the public of Latvia is witnessing increasing tensions lately caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Therefore, a draft law contributing to divisions in society should not be taken forward in the Saeima. According to the leaders of the Christian denominations, the judgement of the Constitutional Court can be enforced through amendments to the Labour Law. Those living in a common household may benefit from the possibility to conclude agreements and approve powers of attorney before a notary. The leaders of the Christian denominations appealed to the members of the Saeima to support the version of the draft law that would strengthen families and help people of Latvia build a cohesive society.

D 21 octobre 2022    AAnita Stasulane

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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