Lithuania’s top court has ruled that foreign spouses of gay citizens must be granted residence permits.
The Constitutional Court ruled that denying residency permits to the spouses of gay Lithuanian citizens who had married abroad was discriminatory and a breach of human dignity.
‘The refusal to issue permits cannot be based only on gender identity or sexual orientation,’ the court stated.
The landmark ruling comes despite same-sex unions not being legally recognized in the Baltic state.
However, it comes after the European Union (EU) ruled that all EU member states must recognize freedom of movement for same-sex married couples in June last year.
Lithuania’s immigration department has said it will abide by the Constitutional Court’s ruling and begin issuing permits for same-sex spouses.
Vladimir Simonko, head of the Lithuanian Gay League, hailed it as ‘a progressive ruling that sends an important message to our LGBT community and politicians, AFP reports.
‘I hope it will lead towards more positive attitude towards gay families,’ Simonko said.
Some relative progress
While there has been some progress with regards to LGBTI rights in Lithuania over recent years, the LGBTI community still face widespread discrimination and prejudice in the heavily Catholic country.
In November last year, Lithuanian authorities banned a music video because it featured same-sex couples kissing .
In August before this, the doorway of an LGBTI rights center was set alight in an arson attack . Following the attack, hundreds of Lithuanians took to the streets to show their support for the LGBTI community .
Lithuania remains one of the six European Union member states – alongside Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Latvia – where the constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
In June 2017, the Lithuania’s parliament voted against amending the country’s Civil Code to give legal status to all couples regardless of gender, effectively deciding against officially recognizing same-sex partnerships .
Despite being unsuccessful, some LGBTI rights advocates said that even having vote being held and with 29 MPs voting in favor of the amendment, showed some relative sign of progress.
In 2018, LGBTI rights monitoring group the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) ranked Lithuania at 37 out of the 49 countries polled in an annual review of human rights for LGBTI people.