President Volodymyr Zelensky, who responded on Tuesday to a citizens’ petition calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ukraine, raised the prospect of “civil partnerships” but said the constitutional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one wife could not be changed in wartime.
Mr Zelensky responded after the petition gained support from more than 25,000 Ukrainians. Ukraine does not recognize marriage rights for same-sex couples, nor does it have a statute allowing them to enter into civil unions. Calls to give these couples equal rights have been heightened in part by the sacrifices of LGBTQ soldiers who helped the country fight Russia’s brutal invasion.
According to the regulations of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the military must inform the parents and spouse or other close relatives of a fallen soldier. But those rules don’t apply to same-sex couples who can’t legally marry.
In Ukraine, same-sex couples do not automatically have the right to visit a hospitalized partner, share property, care for a deceased partner’s children, claim the body of a partner killed in war, or receive death benefits from the state to collect.
The petition calling on Mr. Zelensky to support marriage rights for same-sex couples was initiated by Anastasia Sovenko, 24, an English teacher from Zaporizhzhia, southern Ukraine, who identifies as bisexual.
She had said that after reading an article about heterosexual soldiers rushing to marry their partners before going into battle, she was sad, angry and frustrated that LGBTQ soldiers didn’t have that option.
Mr. Zelensky wrote in his reply that democratic societies are measured in part by the way they defend equal rights for all citizens and that “each citizen is an indivisible part of civil society, for whom all the rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution of Ukraine.”
“All human beings are free and equal in their dignity and rights,” he wrote.
However, Mr Zelensky noted that Ukraine’s constitution states that “marriage is based on the free consent of a woman and a man”, and said the document could not be changed during a state of siege, which he said. declared in Februaryafter Russia invaded.
At the same time, Mr Zelensky wrote, the government had “worked out options for a solution regarding the legalization in Ukraine of registered civil partnerships under the auspices of work on the affirmation and protection of human rights and freedoms.”
He added that he had asked Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal to review the issue raised in the petition and report on his findings.
“The response is more positive than it could have been,” Inna Sovsun, an opposition lawmaker in the liberal Holos party, which champions LGBTQ rights, wrote on Facebook. “But at the same time – not clear enough.”
Since amending the Constitution is now impossible, she wrote, registered partnerships would be an “acceptable interim alternative.”
“But where are the options the president is talking about?” Mrs. Sovsun wrote. “Why are they not being discussed and not presented to parliament?”
Ms Sovenko, the petitioner, said she was pleased that Mr Zelensky had mentioned civil partnerships for same-sex couples.
“That’s the start,” she wrote in an email. She said she was “full of hope” that the government would allow same-sex couples to get married after the war.
“I’m proud that the reactions weren’t all negative,” she said, “and I’m very happy that this happened.”
The push for same-sex marriage has met considerable resistance in a country where Eastern Orthodox religion and traditional sexual mores are deeply entrenched in the social fabric. Opponents include some conservative members of Mr Zelensky’s own party, who have called for a law to fine “gay propaganda.”
But gay rights advocates in Ukraine hope that Mr Zelensky will eventually support gay marriage rights and help the country polish its liberal credentials as it tries to join the European Union and move closer to the West.
Maham Javaid and And Bilefsky reporting contributed. David Kurkovskiy contributed a translation.