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Bill to allow same-sex partnerships in Lithuania falls at first hurdle

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By Chantal Da Silva with Reuters
People hold flags and take part in the annual Baltic Gay Pride Parade in Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, June 18, 2016.
People hold flags and take part in the annual Baltic Gay Pride Parade in Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, June 18, 2016.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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A bill that would have allowed civil unions for same-sex couples in Lithuania failed to clear its first parliamentary hurdle on Tuesday.

The bill, dubbed the Partnership Law, needed 65 votes to move forward. In a narrow defeat, 63 MPs voted in favour, 58 against and seven abstained.

"I am disappointed with yesterday’s decision. Nevertheless, [the] good news is that we have received the support of 63 MPs and we lacked only two votes to pass the Partnership Law at the first hearing," Tomas Raskevičius, an openly gay MP who sponsored the bill, told Euronews.

Raskevičius, a member of the liberal Freedom Party, vowed to introduce the bill again in the autumn but said he would likely be making changes in a bid to gain more support for the legislation.

"We will improve the draft law by taking into account the proposals articulated by the Legal Department of the Parliament and other political groups, and return to the Seimas during the autumn session with the updated bill," he said.

The measure had received backing from Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and was strongly championed by the Freedom Party.

"This is not the end," Freedom Party leader Ausrine Armonaite told AFP after the vote.

"We will continue to work for change, for all people to be equal before the law, for no one to be on the margins of the society".

The legislation had sought to allow same-sex unions and give LGBT+ couples access to certain legal benefits, including joint ownership of property and inheritance rights. It did not cover adoption rights, however.

Its failure in parliament comes after protests in Lithuania over the bill's introduction.

Thousands of people took part in a demonstration in Vilnius back in May protesting against the bill, with the event dubbed the "Great Family Defence March".

With an overwhelmingly Christian population and three-quarters of adults identifying as Catholic as of 2018, according to the Pew Research Centre, opposition to the legal recognition of same-sex unions is known to be high in Lithuania.

In 2019, a Eurobarometer survey found that more than 60% of people in Lithuania were opposed to same-sex unions being "allowed throughout Europe".

Updated (26/05/2021): This article has been updated with a statement from Tomas Raskevičius.