Lithuania court hands down landmark ruling about gay couples

People pose as they took part in the ''Baltic Pride 2010'' march, the first gay pride event in Lithuania, on May 8, 2010

The highest court in Lithuania has ruled that foreign spouses of gay citizens must be given residency permits.

In a momentous ruling on Friday (January 11), the court denounced the practice of denying residency permits to gay spouses as discriminatory and against human dignity, according to AFP.

“The refusal to issue permits cannot be based only on gender identity or sexual orientation”

— The top court in Lithuania

“The refusal to issue permits cannot be based only on gender identity or sexual orientation,” ruled the court.

The migration department in Lithuania has confirmed that it will change its policy and start handing residency permits to foreign spouses of gay citizens.

Court ruling hailed by Lithuania gay activists

This appears to be the first official recognition of same-sex unions of any kind in Lithuania.

Homosexuality was only decriminalised in the country in 1993, and the constitution still defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Vladimir Simonko, who leads the Lithuanian Gay League, welcomed the decision as “a progressive ruling that sends an important message to our LGBT community and politicians.

“I hope it will lead towards more positive attitude towards gay families,” he added.

Lithuania ruling in favour of gay spouses attracts some criticism

However, Lithuania’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference condemned the ruling.

The organisation said that the court had created a “new legal category” for families with same-sex parents in the predominantly Catholic country.

In Vilnius, Lithuania, a man holds a placard reading "Proud To be Lithuanian and Gay " while taking part in the ''Baltic Pride 2013'' march on July 27, 2013

LGBT activists in Lithuania welcomed the ruling (PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty)

“The postulate that the family concept is gender-neutral is not in line with the teachings of the Church,” it added.

“Marriage is the basis of the family and it is concluded upon the free mutual consent of a man and woman.”

Intermittent progress in Lithuania for LGBT+ people

Authorities in Lithuania have taken some steps towards LGBT+ equality in recent times.

In 2017, Lithuania’s Parliament marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by hosting an exhibition of photos taken by artist Samanta Matuizaitė which featured queer Lithuanians.

And elsewhere in the capital, Vilnius Town Hall was lit up in rainbow colours “to demonstrate that Vilnius is an open and tolerant European city.”

Lithuania was also reportedly the first country to grant asylum to gay and bisexual Chechens fleeing the country’s gay purge.

Two asylum seekers were allowed to stay in Lithuania after fleeing the purge, which resulted in more than 100 queer men in Chechnya being arrested, imprisoned and tortured by authorities in concentration camps.

However, in August, the Lithuanian Gay League’s office was targeted in an arson attack.

The group said that the front door and door blinds of its facilities were set on fire in what it called a “vicious homophobic attack.”