By Hugo Greenhalgh
Dec. 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Lithuania looks set to legalise same-sex civil partnerships next year, but gay marriage could be up to a decade away, according to the country's only openly LGBTQ+ lawmaker — elected this year after appearing on the campaign trail in full drag.
The Baltic nation's constitution says marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and Tomas Raskevicius said a constitutional amendment allowing same-sex marriage would struggle to gain enough support in the next few years.
He is confident, however, that registered partnerships for same-sex couples will become law before the next parliamentary election due in 2024.
"We're going to submit the bill in the spring session in March," Raskevicius, 31, who represents the newly established Freedom Party, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
The bill's introduction within the current parliamentary term was a condition of the opposition Liberal Party for joining the ruling coalition.
"There are some members of the (majority Homeland Union party) who have already declared they are not going to vote for it, so we're going to look for some additional votes from the opposition, but I think we should be fine," Raskevicius said.
A European Union member since 2004, Lithuania remains a mostly socially conservative country, with almost three-quarters of its 2.8 million people identifying as Roman Catholic.
Although gay sex was legalised in 1993, in common with many other former Soviet countries, LGBTQ+ people are still unable to adopt children and a law preventing the discussion of homosexuality with minors remains on the statute books.
The "Protection of Minors" law is being considered by the European Court of Human Rights, but Raskevicius said it was his "principal position ... to get that legislation lifted" before the court gives a ruling.
Workplace discrimination on the basis of sexuality was outlawed in 2003, but a 2014 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights report found 71% of LGBTQ+ Lithuanians feel uncomfortable being open about their sexuality or gender identity.
"We get into this vicious circle because LGBT people don't have the chance to come out and then society doesn't have the chance to meet them in real life, and then they hold certain negative stereotypes about this community," Raskevicius said.
Lithuania's first openly gay MP was Rokas Zilinskas, who died in 2017, but Raskevicius was the first to declare his sexuality before entering parliament.
As the country's only openly LGBTQ+ lawmaker, Raskevicius — who donned drag as he canvassed support for October's election to challenge "stereotypes about LGBT people" — recognises the need to be a role model.
But he remains a reluctant one.
"I'm just a normal guy who had a dream about being equal in this country and this dream has brought me to places I would have never imagined," he said, from the capital, Vilnius.
After graduating from Vilnius University in 2011 and Budapest's Central European University a year later, Raskevicius, who now serves as chairman of parliament's human rights committee, worked for a range of human rights NGOs.
Not in his "wildest dreams" did he ever imagine becoming a member of parliament, he said.
"(It) feels great, it feels empowering," he added. "But now I also feel a big responsibility because people gave me their trust and the mandate to fulfil their promises, and now I really have to work very hard to make this happen."
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)