TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia on Thursday became the first former Soviet republic to legalize same-sex partnerships, while Kyrgyzstan — another former Soviet republic — is considering anti-gay legislation.
The parallel moves reflect starkly divergent paths taken by the countries that once were part of the Soviet Union.
In Estonia, lawmakers voted 40 to 38 to approve a partnership bill that recognizes the civil unions of all couples regardless of gender. Twenty-three lawmakers were absent or abstained in the third and final reading of the legislation.
The legislation will give those in civil unions — heterosexual or gay — almost the same rights as married couples, including financial, social and health benefits provided by the government and legal protection for children. It does not give couples in such unions adoption rights but does allow one partner to adopt the biological child of the other.
The measure will take effect in January 2016, after it is signed by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who supported it.
The Estonian Human Rights Center hailed the vote as “historic,” saying it would send a strong message to neighboring Russia, which passed what the center called “a draconian anti-gay law” last year.
The United States also welcomed the legislation.
“The U.S. government supports equal treatment under the law for all groups and believes the new cohabitation bill extends important rights and protections to unmarried couples and their families,” the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn said in a statement.
In contrast with Estonia, lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation about 2,000 miles east, began considering a bill Thursday that would make gay “propaganda” punishable by a prison term of up to one year.
Kyrgyz rights activists view the bill as a copycat version of the Russian anti-gay law, which prohibits vaguely defined propaganda to minors about “nontraditional sexual relations” and has provoked international outrage.
Impoverished Kyrgyzstan has cultivated close ties with Russia and aspires to become a member of a Moscow-led economic bloc. The bill’s sponsors have described it as a necessary measure to support “traditional family values.”
Estonia is considered the most Western-oriented of the former Soviet republics, with a long history of cooperation with its liberal-minded Nordic neighbors.
However, there has been little tolerance of gays in the small Baltic nation of 1.3 million particularly among the sizable ethnic-Russian minority and in rural areas where traditional values prevail.