In a first for the Caucasus, a Georgian man has filed a lawsuit for the legalization of same-sex marriages in Georgia, a conservative, predominantly Orthodox Christian country. With his suit, civil-rights lawyer Giorgi Tatishvili disputes the constitutionality of a civil law that defines marriage as a union between man and a woman.
Georgia’s vastly influential Orthodox Church requested on February 7 that Tatishvili be placed under police protection as his safety is at risk. Nearly three years ago, a mob led by priests violently scattered an anti-homophobia rally in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and the violence damaged the Church’s reputation.
Its governing body, the Patriarchy, distanced itself from the violence then and has now spoken out against what it described as likely attacks against Tatisvhili.
“Although we find his initiative, let alone the passing of a [same-sex marriage] law, condemnable and completely unacceptable, acts of violence are also unacceptable,” the Patriarchy said in a statement. Tatishvili has not responded.
No date been set yet for the Constitutional Court to hear the case, but attitudes toward homosexuality are broadly negative in Georgia and throughout the Caucasus.
Well-known minority-rights activists have not embraced Tatishvili's petition, a case which they worry may result in public hostility toward and further marginalization of Georgia’s LGBT community. “In an environment where LGBT groups are virtually banished from the public space . . .it is all but science fiction to speak about gay marriage and request the Constitutional Court to weigh in on it,” Lasha Kavtaradze, spokesperson for the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, commented to EurasiaNet.org.
Georgian Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili approaches the lawsuit cautiously.
“The Constitution defines family as a union between spouses. It does not mention a man and a woman, which is what the civil code says,” Nanuashvili said, local media reported. “It is hard to say if the Constitutional Court decides that this article of the civil law contradicts the Constitution.”
In Georgia, the matter of sexual orientation also has been tied to political orientation. LGBT rights continue to feature as the European Union’s single largest cultural turnoff for the otherwise pro-Western nation.
In 2014, on the eve of Tbilisi’s signature of an Association Agreement with the EU, pro-Russia groups and tabloids raised the prospect that closer integration with the EU would mean the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage.
To receive the Church’s blessing for the agreement, former EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policies Štefan Füle assured the Patriarchy that the treaty had no gay marriage implications. The EU was also compelled to issue a so-called Myth Buster that emphasized the EU’s respect for Georgian values, and noted that “not even EU member states are required to legalize gay marriage and several don’t recognize it.”
As yet, fresh speculation in connection with Tatishvili's lawsuit has not begun.