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Zelensky floats civil unions amid gay marriage push in Ukraine

The president noted that the constitution cannot be changed during wartime

People take part in an annual Pride parade in Kyiv, Ukraine, in September. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky floated “civil partnerships” as a potential answer to calls for the legalization of same-sex marriage, a step he said would not be possible during the war — though Russia’s invasion has reinvigorated the push for marriage equality.

More than 28,000 people signed a petition urging Zelensky to legalize same-sex marriage, arguing that gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples. The war has injected additional urgency to that effort, with some gay couples concerned that the partner of a deceased soldier would not have the same visitation rights or benefits as they would if they were in a heterosexual relationship.

“At this time, every day can be the last,” the petition said. “Let the people of the same sex get the opportunity to start a family and have an official document to prove it.”

Responding to the petition on Tuesday, Zelensky — who has framed Ukraine’s defense against Russia as a fight for democracy and Western values — said that “in the modern world, the level of democracy in a society is measured, among other things, by the state policy aimed at ensuring equal rights for all citizens.”

However, he noted that the Ukrainian constitution, which defines marriage “based on the free consent of a woman and a man,” could not be changed during wartime, a rule stipulated by the constitution itself. He suggested the possibility of civil partnerships, which Ukraine has already “worked out options for,” he said, as it positions itself for its desired accession to the European Union, which has stronger protections for LGBTQ rights. Zelensky said he had asked the prime minister to look into the matter and report back to him with his findings.

Ukraine, a heavily Eastern Orthodox country, has had a less favorable societal attitude toward the LGBTQ community than in other parts of Europe. In Spain, 89 percent of people said homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey. That figure was 86 percent in France and Germany, but only 14 percent in Ukraine, where 69 percent said homosexuality should not be accepted.

It’s unclear whether those views have significantly changed since then, but the war has created unlikely alliances between the LGBTQ community and other sections of society as the invasion has united Ukrainians from all walks of life.

Ukraine’s LGBTQ rights movement contends with war’s mixed impact

With the world’s gaze on Ukraine and its president, who has been largely heralded by the international community for his leadership during the war, Zelensky’s comments also come amid a push in some countries to further LGBTQ rights. In the United States, the House passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, spurred by fears that current protections could disappear if the Supreme Court overturned its landmark 2015 ruling. (The bill’s viability in the Senate is unclear, as it would require Republican support.)

In South Korea, legislation that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination has stalled under conservative opposition. Ukraine in 2015 passed a law protecting LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in the workplace.

Zina Pozen contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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