Latvian couple become first to register same-sex partnership under new law

By Janis Laizans

RIGA (Reuters) - Maksims Ringo and Janis Locs became the first Latvian same-sex couple to register their partnership on Monday, shortly after midnight when a new law came into force.

After the event at a legal office in Riga's historic centre, the couple exchanged silver rings at a party in the city's main library and hope to get gold rings if and when Latvia legalises same-sex marriage, Ringo said.

"We are together for five and a half years ... so for us, it's mostly practical", said Ringo, noting improved hospital visiting rights for example under the new law.

Homosexuality remains a divisive topic in Latvia, whose legislators in 2005 changed the constitution to define marriage as only allowed between a man and a woman.

The Latvian parliament voted last November to formally legislate same-sex civil unions, after 46 same-sex couples successfully challenged courts to get recognised as a family unit in the eyes of the law.

This allowed partners in such a union to have hospital visiting rights, as well as giving some tax and social security benefits. However they are not be able to adopt children and continue to face inheritance issues.

The change in Latvia means there are now only five EU countries where people in same-sex relationships cannot register civil unions: Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Latvia's parliament elected President Edgars Rinkevics as the first openly gay head of state in the European Union in May last year, despite 45% of Latvians telling a 2019 Eurobarometer poll they would be uncomfortable with having a homosexual or bisexual high-ranking official.

Latvian gay rights activist Kaspars Zalitis said several notary offices - where civil unions are registered under the new law - are facing queues of same-sex couples who want to register their relationship as fast as possible.

(Writing by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by David Holmes)