„Istorija“. Mokslo darbai. 84 tomas
Ineta LIPŠA. Restriction of Freedom of Consciousness in Democracy: Catholic Protests against the Law on Registry of Civil Status in Latvia (1921–1928)
Ineta Lipša – dr. hist., researcher, Institute of Latvian History at the University of Latvia; address: Akademijas laukums 1, Riga, LV-1050; e-mail: Šis el.pašto adresas yra apsaugotas nuo Spam'o, jums reikia įjungti Javaskriptą, kad matytumėte tai ; fields of research – social history, history of sexuality, history of history-writing in the 20th century.

Abstract. The article focuses on the study of the attitude by residents of Latvia towards civil marriage in the 1920ies analysing the discussions and deeds of people caused by adoption of laws on marriage and registration of the civil status deeds by the Latvian Constitutional Assembly in 1921 that privileged the registration of civil status deeds to the state until 1928. The law was changed due to the stream of dissatisfaction expressed by members and clergy of different confessions, however, the Catholics were leading.

Key words: civil marriage, civil registry, free love, church, Catholics, the faithful.

Anotacija. Straipsnyje aptariamas Latvijos gyventojų požiūrio į civilinę santuoką XX a. 3 deš. tyrimas, kuriame analizuojamos gyventojų diskusijos ir veiksmai dėl 1921 m. Latvijos Steigiamojo Seimo priimtų įstatymų dėl santuokos ir civilinės būklės aktų registravimo, kurie suteikė civilinės būklės aktų registravimo teisę valstybei iki 1928 m. Įstatymas buvo pakeistas dėl įvairių konfesijų atstovų ir dvasininkijos išreikšto nepasitenkinimo, kuriame svarbiausias vaidmuo teko katalikams.

Prasminiai žodžiai: civilinė santuoka, civilinė registracija, laisva meilė, bažnyčia, katalikai, tikintieji.


The aim of this article is to describe the attitude by residents of Latvia towards civil marriage in the 1920ies. The subject of research is the behaviour and discussions of people caused by adoption of laws on marriage and registration of the civil status deeds by the Latvian Constitutional Assembly in 1921. The laws afforded the privilege of registration of civil status deeds to the state and deprived the Church of this privilege. Members of Parliament wanted to set residents of the new independent Latvia free from the old tradition of the former Russian Empire and to become a part of the so referred civilised European countries. This norm caused opposition among many people starting from 1920 when the Constitutional Assembly and the general public started to discuss the laws up to 1928 when the dissatisfaction among the faithful residents resulted in amendments to the laws and the Church was granted equal rights to those of the state in registration of civil status deeds. Requests to achieve adoption of amendments to the law were expressed by members and clergy of different confessions – Lutherans, Old-Believers, Jewish, Orthodox Believers, however, the Catholics were leading this stream of dissatisfaction.

The main source of research is transcripts of the Parliament of Latvia and media issues describing views and activities of representatives of various groups of public and providing insight in their argumentation in favour of either civil or confessional marriage. Until now the Law on Marriage has been described in the Latvian historiography from the perspective of law history [26, 200–201]. Historian Lidija Jefremova has been studied the family of Latvian peasants in Latgale from 1860 to 1939 from the perspective of the social history, nevertheless she has focused on the analyses of social parameters of marriages, such as the age, the social status [63, 168–182], not on the attitude. The author of this article has been researched the marriage in the context of demographical problems [32, 55–59; 31, 36–37; 30, 63–72] thus until now the attitude by residents of Latvia towards civil marriage in the 1920ies has not been the object of historiography.

In the beginning of the 1920-ies when the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia was deciding on the principle of registration of civil status deeds, at least three approaches existed in European countries. Mandatory registration of civil status deeds in the registry office, which represented the so referred mandatory principle, existed in the Netherlands and France as from the end of the 18th century. During the course of time this approach was adopted also in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. In the Balkan countries, Poland and Lithuania, however, registration of civil status deeds in the Church was mandatory. The Scandinavian countries and Czechoslovakia had adopted the optional principle for registration of civil status deeds, according to which individuals were entitled to select registration in the registry office or at the clergyman, therefore deeds of registration of civil status made by both the clergyman and registry offices afforded legal consequences.

Laws on Marriage and Registration of Civil Status Deeds regulated the private life of individuals and were among the first ones which the Latvian Parliament started to develop. According to the widespread view the First World War has caused a mess within the moral experience of people, that the attempts to eliminate the confessional marriage by defenders of the Soviet Latvia in 1919 had confused the minds of people. It should be taken into account that after the bourgeois democratic revolution of February 1917 the socialistic views were more widespread than people were prepared to accept later, few years after foundation of the state of Latvia. Then many of public-spirited women minded lefty but afterwards they participated in the discussion of law on marriage. Riga Women’s Assembly was assembled in March of 1917 [49]. The activists of the Latvian bourgeois women’s movement well-known during the interwar period Berta Pīpiņa, Klāra Hibšmane, Emīlija Vitenberga-Trauberga, Emīlija Liepiņa (Vanaga) were members of the Latvian Socialistic Women’s Educational Union Board in the summer of 1917 [25]. As from May the Women’s Political Club under which the Latvian section was operating was actively holding presentations. In July women founded the Latvian Women’s Union [48]. Because of this past the women, by now active in civic parties, also proposed radical requirements when the Law on Marriage was discussed in the Constitutional Assembly. Popularity of social-democratic views could be certified by the fact that the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party had the largest faction in all the Latvian Parliaments during the interwar period.

It was the aim of the Social Democrats to use the experience of European countries instead of returning to the procedure having existed in the Russian Empire [19, 638] according to which the entitlement to register civil status deeds was granted exclusively to the Church. They were strictly opposing the mandatory confessional marriage and considered that restoration of the old procedure would alienate Latvia from the whole civilised Europe. The ones with secular attitude defended the idea of separating the Church from the state as a principle of democracy and the state as the supreme sovereign power within its territory which should not give up its rights for the benefit of the Church. The relevant German law [19, 629] was used as the example of a law on registration of civil status deeds. However, the Members of Parliament representing the interests of Latgale (it was the only region dominated by the Catholic faith in multi-confessional Latvia) Catholics lead by the member of the Union of Latgalian Christian Farmers Priest Francis Trasuns wanted to have the current privileges reserved for the Church in the laws [41]. The willingness to grant the rights of registering the civil status deeds exclusively to the Church was described by the Member of Parliament Social Democrat Ansis Petrevics as typical for Latgale, i. e. religious obscurantism [20, 174].

Parliamentary debate on marriage

Publicists who shaped the public opinion in mass media asserted that the confessional marriage did no longer comply with the spirit of the era, and this was expressed during the debate on the draft law which the Constitutional Assembly started to discuss on December 10, 1920. The draft law provided for transition from the confessional marriage to civil marriage. Two opinions dominated in the press and Constitutional Assembly – the religious one that faithful people should not be forced to conclude marriage in registry offices and the secular one that unbelieving persons should not be forced to get married in the Church. By above mentioned concept the authors of the law tried to introduce a completely new approach by unifying what seems to be impossible to unify, i.e. both mandatory and optional principles, however, the civil status deeds had legal consequences only after registration in the registry office (the mandatory principle), but it was allowed to get married also in the Church. This combination was most probably dictated by the doubt that they would not succeed with including the clear mandatory principle of registration of civil status deeds in the registry office in the law. However the integration of both principles caused also objections. Representatives of faithful people asserted that in the countries where the mandatory registration in registry offices existed still there was no norm stipulating that the Church may conclude the marriage only after receipt of a note from the registry office, and this requirement was interpreted as interference of the state with the Church affairs because in this way the law as if made clergymen in policemen "who were chasing people to registry offices" [24, 50].

The expert on the draft Law on Marriage Alberts Kviesis explained that also the right to demand divorce when the marriage had fallen apart to such extent that it was not possible to continue it was a special new provision. "During the current era when we have experienced the years of war, refugee times, when a husband and wife sometimes have been totally separated for a long time and have got alienated from each other to such a degree that no cohabitation is possible." [55, 1557–1558] The expert valued also the possibility to divorce with no specific reason if both spouses wanted it as a very progressive step because other countries did not provide for such an option. The Member of Parliament from the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, the famous poet Aspazija even considered that by this draft law the male dominance within the marriage would be eliminated because now the wife was fulfilling the role of both the hostess and a woman for delights of the life [55, 1561]. Four of the six female Members of Parliament actively participated in the debate – Aspazija and Klāra Kalniņa elected from the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, Valerija Seile elected from the Latgale Farmers’ Party and Zelma Cēsniece-Freidenfelde from the Group of Nonparty Members.

The second reading of the draft Law on Marriage took place in the Constitutional Assembly on December 14, 1920. The Social Democrat Nikolajs Kalniņš unexpectedly proposed to adopt an article on divorce also based upon the request by one of the spouses without indicating the reasons for divorce [56, 1625]. He was explaining that this norm, which was later referred to as Article 51, would provide an opportunity to divorce for sensitive persons, thinking about women who did not want to share their problems of intimate life at the court. Still, in cases when the wife did not specify the reasons for divorce she would be considered to blame for divorce, which would mean that she would not be entitled to claim alimony from the husband. The discussions were exciting.

The conservatives insisted on the marriage until the death. They compared freedom in love to the poison of pornography which damages the people’s strength more than plague. The debate showed that no hope for essential reform was justified. Gustavs Reinhards from the faction of Christian National Members of Parliament protested even against easing the divorce as according to him it would promote depravity and would place the marriage on the foundation of "free love". The men would divorce recklessly (would leave their wives as old slippers behind). He was sure he was defending the women’s interests. His motivation was based on the concept that it was easy for a man to get married again while a wife "who has been once used, raped and left by her husband" has "lost in the eyes of society" and would be perceived as a loser also if the new norms were included in the law [56, 1627]. However, the female Members of Parliament did not support Reinhard. The social democrat Aspazija emphasised that there were no women who would view the situation "when she would have to give herself to a man against her wish and with disgust" as moral, although this man was her husband, as love which is not free is immoral.[56, 1627–1628] Her faction colleague Klāra Kalniņa supported Aspazija by saying that "where there is no love but the marriage still exists the highest degree of moral fall takes place", because a person is forced to maintain the marriage just because the Church rules demand it. Kalniņa emphasised that it was not the civil marriage, but, on the contrary, the confessional marriage which promoted prostitution because the partner who did not love any longer was forced to be married, however, "as the law of nature and love are more powerful than all the Church rules on the whole, the depressed party goes to search for love elsewhere" [56, 1629].

The debate focused on the issue whether freedom in love or maintenance of the marriage would be better, therefore, the Member of Parliament from the right Latvian Farmers’ Union Kārlis Pauļuks reminded that still marriage should not be given up unilaterally with no justified reason, as this was a contract between two parties [56, 1630]. His colleague in the faction Alberts Kviesis disapprovingly concluded that the draft law was radical already before the request to permit unilateral divorce upon the request by one of the partners, but if this norm was adopted it would be unprecedented in the cultural world [56, 1630–1631]. However, the Members of Parliament adopted this supplement to the draft law in the second reading with 52 votes in favour and 48 against. In the result the faction of the Latvian Farmers’ Union left the room. Due to the lack of quorum the discussion of the draft law was suspended to be continued after the Christmas holiday.

The opinion by the Member of Parliament Valerija Seile that "this law brings important changes to our life, especially concerning habits, the breaking of which agitates the public most" [54, 1793] was reflected also in mass media comments. The analyst of the influential, politically right-wing newspaper "Latvijas Sargs" [Guard of Latvia], writer Ivande Kaija stated that the article which would permit divorce upon the request by one of the parties would not mean introduction of "free love" and elimination of morals and it would not desecrate the sacredness of a woman and would not destroy the state as it was claimed by the opponents. Kaija concluded that this norm was about to be rejected in the last (the third) reading "because of the males’ fear from the freedom of love", and encouraged Members of Parliament to finally allow women themselves "to decide the issue on their female sacredness or profanity" in the name of the supreme humanity and fairness [15] and to vote in favour of this article also during the third reading instead of preserving the form of marriage lagging behind the modern spirit. Also the publicist Tusnelda asserted that "a woman is calling for freeing her from the remains of obsolete traditions" [60]. Searching for a more pragmatic motivation to her appeal Kaija noted that by making the divorce easier "the Latvian nation would be less threatened by extinction" because most marriages were divorced due to new love, which meant that "more children would be born out of more intense love" [14]. The journalist Ernests Blanks supported the broadening of possibilities of divorce calling it the freedom of marriage because "he was for a man - eagle, whose wings were bound by conquest of a woman – monogamy" [16].

Still, the Members of the Constitutional Assembly voted in favour of deletion of Article 51 in the draft law with 67 votes in favour, 55 against and 1 abstention on February 1, 1921 during the last reading (there were 100 parliament members in Latvian parliaments). Aspazija’s forecast that if a woman was surrounded by love no Church marriage would detain her from belonging to the beloved one and warning to give "the way to the future new woman" [57, 59] remained unheard. Thus, in the discussion concerning the marriage Members of the faction of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ party and the National Conservatives’ active female members turned out to have similar views. Also the centric parties had voted in favour of the left-wing ideas.

The law afforded the privilege to the civil marriage allowing also the Church marriage [28]. It means that before getting married in the Church a person had to register in the registry office, the marriage had to be pronounced there and then the person was entitled to get married in the Church by presenting the registration certificate issued by the registry office. Clergymen were obliged to notify marriages to the local registry office within seven days. Also for baptising a child in the Church the newborn had to be registered in the registry office [27]. The law recognised the marriages concluded during the reign of "lielinieki" (Latvian translation of Bolsheviks), i. e. Latvian communists as valid and made the procedure of divorce considerably easier.

The faithful people still did not give up. Already during the discussions of the laws many clergymen were lobbying in their parishes and encouraging parish members to collect signatures and forward them to the Consistory and government asking to provide a possibility to get married in the Church without going to the registry office for the people who wanted to do it [5]. Most of Catholic people in Latgale viewed the marriage concluded in the registry office as the same immoral as the so called free love, i.e. unregistered partnership. Protesting against the civil marriage the faithful people were collecting signatures in favour of cancelling the law and even threatened that they would initiate the referendum on this issue.

Protection of the marriage sacrament

In the Constitutional Assembly there were two groups of Members of Parliament which represented the faithful people of Latgale region. They both and also the Christian nationalists had voted against the norm which allowed to get married in the Church only after the marriage was proclaimed in the registry office. In their mass media they were lobbying against the law and asserted that most people of Latgale did not understand what the civil marriage was and disdainfully referred to it as an invention of the modern times [41]. The newspaper explained that socialists and members of the Latgale Labour Party did not believe in God and Carl Marx’s "Capital" was their Gospel. They didn’t consider a man to be superior to an animal and therefore they wanted to force people to get married at policemen and to achieve that the couples married by the Priest would not be considered married by the state and their children would not be considered legitimate. The Catholic Church considered both laws (on marriage and registration of civil status deeds) intervention by the secular world in the sacramental affairs, and therefore many Latgale people wanted to achieve amendments to the laws.

They protested against the fact that the law added still more officials to already high number of them and that the farmers would have to pay another tax and also spend time for going to the registry office in the centre of rural municipality at the same time when the clergyman lived not far from them. In the result 18 of 20 parishes of Rēzekne district in the summer of 1922 requested the Constitutional Assembly to repeal the Law on Registration of Civil Status Deeds because the people detested it [51]. The Council of Rural municipality of Višķi recommended stipulate that the registry offices should be funded only from the funds of those who wanted to have them [62]. Members of Parliament from Latgale were requested to achieve amendments to the law. Besides, people expressed their distrust to the Members of Parliament who voted in favour of this law and Valentīna Seile in particular. "All the society of Latgale is against this law, and women of Latgale are most against it. In Latgale the Law on Registration of Civil Status Deeds is defended by a very small number of immoral persons and maybe few "street beauties" with whom any Latgalian would be ashamed to go to the Chancel. However, Miss Seile was speaking in the Constitutional Assembly and defended the Law on Registration of Civil Status Deeds, and, as far as it can be heard, she has not changed her opinion and devotes all her strength for achieving that the law disgustful for the souls of Latgalians is not repealed" [50].

Assembly of Rural municipality of Makašāni in which 1952 citizens with voting rights participated on July 21, 1922 adopted the decision that registration of civil status deeds was not needed for the fourth time. The Council of rural municipality of Asūne decided to request the Constitutional Assembly to repeal this law as not needed and not favourable for the people or to amend it at least [35]. The Priest Trasuns pointed out in 1923 that adoption of the law was promoted not only by the left-wing parties, but also Baltic (as Latgalians referred to residents of other regions of Latvia) non-socialist parties (Latvian Farmers’ Union, Democratic Centre, Labour Party, Latgale Farmers’ Party)[59]. According to him Latgale was so much disappointed by the law that nominees to the Constitutional Assembly from the Latgale Farmers’ Party did not dare to come to the election meetings in quite a lot places during the election campaign of the 1st Saeima (Parliament) in autumn of 1922, and the government was postponing foundation of the registry offices, thus, "the discontent among the people calmed down slightly" [59]. In 1923 the threats expressed by the Ministry of Justice to councils of rural municipalities for not complying with the ordinances "forced all the Latgale to stand up again". The necessity of the referendum was discussed. The Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, member of Union of Latgalian Christian Farmers Antons Dzenis notified the Minister of Justice Vilis Holcmanis in 1923 several times that it was not possible to found the registry offices in Latgale by July 10, 1923 because no funds have been allocated for that in the budgets of rural municipalities and asked to repeal the relevant ordinance [7]. As the Minister of Justice did not react to this, the Deputy Minister of Justice submitted a proposal to the Cabinet of Ministers on repealing the ordinance by the Minister of Justice and stipulating that it should not be complied with until adoption of amendments to the Law on Registration of Civil Status Deeds. The Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and the Minister of Justice agreed that the rural municipalities which had not established the registry offices because of the lack of funds would not be brought to liability. For calming down rural municipalities in Latgale the Minister of Justice repealed the ordinance based upon the fact that no funding was allocated for the registry offices in the budgets of parishes this year [59]. It was even asserted that people had referred such registrations as "dogs’ marriages and dogs’ baptising", that registration in the registry offices was an offence to Catholics because it was equal to saying "you are an animal" and we are going to enter you as an animal in our registry logs [6]. It is possible that a part of Latgale people associated the law with the times of Bolsheviks, i. e. the Decree of the Soviet Russia which Bolsheviks were trying to enforce upon Latgale people in 1919 when militia men from Daugavpils Tribunal were involved in some executive committees of parishes to force people to obey. [19, 625] The ones not obeying were physically influenced and imprisoned. In rural municipality of Krāslava four people were shut and 16 were shut in rural municipality of Osūne.

People who were trying to achieve amendments to the law escalated the situation. For example, they asserted that in summer of 1924 the registry offices were not founded in most rural municipalities of Latgale [8]. Actually, they were not founded in 18 rural municipalities out of 65 [18]. At that time there were 526 rural municipalities and 457 registry offices in Latvia. Still, Catholic people were not "eager" to register civil status deeds in the registry offices [18]. The Member of Parliament of the Catholic and Christian Farmers’ Party Alfons Pastors, who was referred to as the instigator of mollycoddles (bābas from Russian baba) by his political opponents [13] in 1926 asserted that the registry offices did not exist in rural municipalities of Užvalde, Kalupe, Osūne in Latgale. (In Rudzāti and Kapiņi of Daugavpils district even in the beginning of 1929 the registry offices were not founded and therefore the district board notified both councils of rural municipalities that they had to comply with law and that they would be brought to court if they did not [3].) In Piedruja due to this reason all the members of the council of rural municipality were under the police supervision which meant that they had to register with the police once a week. Besides, the law was ignored also in rural municipalities where there were registry offices. The Member of Parliament Pastors asserted in mass media that many people had been penalised by fines and that among clergymen there was none who would not be accused in at least ten court cases some of which have been heard even by the Senate of the Supreme Court [19, 624].

Clergymen were marrying and baptising according to their views and were brought to court for this. Besides, there were people on whose marriage, baptising, death the state did not have any data, which meant that they were not legally valid, and they could not settle the heritage and other procedures. In 1925 the Member of Parliament of the Catholic and Christian Farmers’ Party, priest Bernhards Augusts Kublinskis asserted that despite the fact that "quite a lot" clergymen, members of councils of rural municipalities and individuals had been punished for not complying with the law, it has not been possible to implement the law. [24, 55] Until June of 1925 "some 5 priests" had been punished by a fine or arrest [12]. The Dean of Krāslava parish Priest Vladislavs Zundo was sentenced to 10 days of arrest for not registering marriages with the registry office – being a priest he had to serve this sentence in Aglona Basilica from May 27 to June 7, 1927 [9]. Despite the fact that the Priest was not present at the church on May 29 the members of the parish held a meeting and adopted the resolution "on repeal of this law so burdensome for people". The speeches were followed by a demonstration of about two thousand people with banners "the law on the civil marriage must be repealed", "Free the Priest Zundo". The delegation of protesters submitted the resolution to the State President, Saeima and government. On September 22 the Dean of the Līvāni Catholic parish was punished by a fine of 25 Lats and the newspaper "Zemnīka Ziņas" [Farmer’s News] added that clergymen of several other parishes had been accused [38]. Latgale Regional Court sentenced 27 members of the council of Domopole rural municipality to arrest from one to two weeks for non-compliance with the Law on registration of the civil status deeds, despite the fact that the accused persons explained that Latgalians did not want to marry and register in registry offices [36]. The Court Chamber of Supreme Court diminished the fine of 150 lats imposed upon the Dean of the Augustova Catholic parish Alviss Kalve-Kovaļevs by Latgale Regional court to 20 Lats or six days of arrest [37].

The expert of the Public Law Committee, Member of Parliament from the Catholic and Christian Farmers’ Party Alfons Pastors received many petitions in 1927 and 1928 not only from people, but "even from all councils of rural municipalities of Latgale" with "thousands of signatures" with the request to amend the law [22, 590; 21, 25]. (Unfortunately, the files of the Public Law Committee available at the Fund of the Constitutional Assembly of the Latvian State Historical Archives does not contain these petitions.) Such petitions were received also from Hebrew parishes and clergymen. The Member of Parliament, Old-Believer Pēteris Koreckis asked not to exert influence upon the conscience and belief of Old-Believers already in 1925. He asserted that in villages registration of marriages "caused truly violent, difficult conditions" and also that "for the noble maternal disposition it was disgusting to spoil the most intimate act of the fulfilled love based upon which a woman lives with the procedure to be carried out at the parish" [24, 51]. Already in the autumn of 1926 the Member of Parliament, Old-Believer Meletijs Kaļistratovs informed that Old-Believers had held several meetings where it was resolved that the law had to be amended [19, 636]. The Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia in 1928 established that the registry offices imposed additional burden upon people from both monetary and time perspective, besides abused the religious beliefs of people, therefore it requested the government and Saeima to make amendments to the Law on Registration of Civil Status Deeds entitling clergymen to do registration and cancelling the mandatory character of the registry office [22, 590].

Until the mid-1920ies in other regions of Latvia – Vidzeme and Zemgale – this norm did not cause do strict dissatisfaction among people which would deserve mentioning it in mass media. Still, in Kurzeme it was recognised that development of civic liberties and similar factors have brought about the necessity to create the Law on Registration of Civil Status Deeds independently from the Church for the benefit of people with socialistic beliefs, however, it was emphasised that it was the smallest part of the society [39]. At the end of 1922 the nationalistic conservative regional mass media emphasised that "our priests do not see or do not want to see the true causes" behind the fact that people are losing their faith, and instead they "are trying to blame the registry offices as the ones destroying the faith and bringing all the evil" [34]. At the end of 1923 a similar view was promoted by the politically centric largest daily newspaper of Latvia. It informed that the clergymen were protesting against proclaiming marriages and registration in the registry office and was submitting their protests to the government ministers on behalf of the people. Still, the reporter defended the secular law by presenting amazing arguments – that it was easier for people to learn the surnames of persons intending to get married at the same place, i. e. at the registry office instead of being present at all the churches of Riga on three Sundays to hear what the Priest was saying [47]. By the way, the necessity to know who was going to marry whom and who had divorced whom was recognised as publicly essential – information on concluded and divorced marriages was published not only in the regional media but also in some central newspapers in the interwar Latvia. The statement at the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia at the end of 1923 that despite the competition from the registry offices the number of marriages concluded by clergymen had increased was commented by the journalist with a conclusion that the clergymen’s protests against the civil marriage were based upon the hidden intention "to gain the power over people again" [47]. He emphasised that Latvians as free people were protected against the clergymen guardianship by law, still for the purpose of preventing attacks against the registry offices once and forever, he recommended the Ministry of Justice to develop an amendment to the law providing for mandatory marriage at the registry office exclusively.

In 1924 in Riga 3736 couples had married and only 27 % of them had concluded their marriage only in the registry office, while the other 73 % had later gone to consecrate their marriage to clergymen [4]. The publicist Hermanis Asars commented these data and emphasised that for all that in Riga "most of our socialists, communists and other non-believers lived and married", but „in smaller towns and in the countryside there are even less people who would not want the Church marriage and baptising, and in some places there are no such people". This fact permitted him to claim in 1925 that the Marriage Law did not comply with the views of majority of people and that the registry offices were not needed. The clergymen’s support to the necessity of amendments to the law had changed the prevailing view in the non-socialist mass media during a couple of years. When the political lobbies of the Catholic Church had managed to get the majority in Saeima for amending the law in 1925, the publicist of the newspaper „Kurzemes Vārds" [Kurzeme Word] did not defend the register offices any more but stated that by breaking all the links to the Church the antireligism, atheism and downgrade of ethic and moral strength of the people would be amplified, therefore the registry offices should be painlessly disposed of. „They are practically non-functional in Latgale, in other regions of Latvia only 10–15 per cent register civil status deeds exclusively in the registry offices, and only in Riga this number reaches approximately 25 per cent" [39], the publicist Aleksandrs Ozoliņš asserted. The journalist Evelīna Grāmatniece stated in 1926 that the majority of people protested against foundation of the registry offices in Latvia and that they had been established based upon the request by a separate political group, meaning social democrats [11]. She referred to the registry offices as non-essential, decorations of the European modernism very costly for the people, having declared war against "old, deeply established traditions" [11]. The expert of the Saeima Legal Committee Andrejs Krastkalns established in 1928 that based upon the statistics data "a large part of people approached also clergymen besides registration; therefore, citizens had to pay twice as much as they would if they got married only at the clergymen" [22, 592]. (Unfortunately, in the published statistics compilations it is not detailed how many of the concluded marriages were concluded only in the Church and how many in the registry offices.)

Attempts to amend the law

A few municipalities of Latgale had submitted a petition to the Saeima concerning amending the Law on Registry Offices in the summer of 1923. The issue was discussed at the Public Law Committee which decided to close the issue by majority of votes [10]. The necessity of amendments was first noted in the government declaration by the leader of the government formed by the Latvian Farmers’ Union Zigfrīds Anna Meirovics on June 26, 1923 [61]. The demand by Latgalians to permit to marry and baptise children in the Church without preceding registration in the registry office was supported in 1924 not only by the right-wing parties (the Latvian Farmers’ Union, the Latgale Farmers’ Party), some Members of Parliament representing minorities, but also centric parties (the Democratic Centre and the Party of Latvian New Farmers) [8]. They attempted to get the law amendments adopted via the government. During the Christmas holiday of the Saeima the Cabinet of Ministers lead by the member of the Latvian Farmers’ Union Hugo Celmiņš adopted the amendments to the law according to the procedure provided by Article 81 of the Satversme (Constitution) [44], (which entitled the Cabinet of Ministers to adopt regulations equal to the law in case of imminent necessity), however, when the Saeima restarted its work on January 23 it cancelled the amendments (because some Members of Parliament from centric and right-wing parties were late for the meeting) [23, 44]. The Social Democrat Fēlikss Cielēns stated that adoption of the amendments according to the procedure of Article 81 was not justified because none of the factions had proposed amendments or additions to these laws neither in plenary sessions nor in committees [23, 42]. Therefore in future the lobbyists of believers were utilising the norm according to which ten Members of Parliament could submit proposals to Saeima and – it should be noted – there were among them also the Parliament Members that represented the interests of the Orthodox inhabitants.

The reason of the Church opposition was the willingness to maintain its authority as the supreme power above the state, however, at the same time their lobbyists used the facts that because of the law people had to spend money and time for travel and these were the reasons why the people were against the law as the basis for defending their opinions. The believers were paying twice – both in the registry office and at the Church. The Priest Trasuns accused Members of Parliament that they did not want to adopt the law to the people, but were trying to adopt the people to the law instead [24, 53]. The Member of Parliament, Bishop of the Evangelican Lutheran Church of Latvia Kārlis Irbe asserted that in the registry offices, at least in Riga, they were trying to persuade people not to go to the Church [24, 53]. Social democrats considered that the parties, which defended the democracy values would have to defend the state as the supreme sovereign power within its territory, and therefore the Social Democrat Fēlikss Cielēns referred to the preparedness of the Democratic Centre to vote for the contrary view in 1925 as conciliation behind the scene [24, 53]. The Social Democrat Nikolajs Kalniņš emphasised that clergymen were financially interested and recommended to force them to comply with the law [24, 48]. The Social Democrat-mazinieks (mazinieki as antonym to lielinieki) Marģers Skujenieks rejected the argument concerning the distance a farmer had to travel to get to the registry office in the centre of rural municipality by saying that a person had to go there just a couple of times during one’s life [19, 630]. Besides, he revealed that these were defenders of the opinion of the Catholic Church who voted against the proposal to cancel the fee for services of the registry offices.

The proposal of the group of Parliament Members to the Saeima to ask the relevant committee to rework the Laws on Marriage and Registration of Civil Status Deeds according to the optional principle was discussed by the Parliament for four times – on April 22, 1925 when the Saeima transferred it for discussion to the Public Law Committee [24, 44 and 57]. The proposal was signed also by Parliament Member from Russian National Democrats’ Party Aleksandrs Bočagovs. However, the Members of the Public Law Committee who lobbied the interests of believers voted against it because they wanted to achieve total elimination of the registry offices and to have the registration entrusted to clergymen only according to the "old tradition" [13]. The draft law developed by the Committee was rejected by the Saeima for the second time – on November 19, 1926 with prevalence of one vote [19, 624 and 638]. This time the proposal was signed also by the Parliament Member of the Block of Orthodox Voters and United Russian Organizations Elpidifors Tichoņickijs. On February 1, 1927 the Saeima for the third time transferred the running proposal of the group of Parliament Members for review to the Public Law and State Administration Committee on optional basis [20, 167, 175]. The Committee adopted amendments in the third reading on April 26, 1926 [29] but finally consensus was not achieved and only on October 7, 1927 the draft proposed by the Committee was presented to the Saeima. Saeima established that the Committee had developed the law on the basis of the mandatory principle instead of the optional principle according to the given task, therefore the law was transferred for review to the Legal Committee [21, 29]. (No confirmation to the statements by the Member of Parliament, Priest Alfons Pastors that the government adopted the amendments according to the procedure of Article 81 in 1927 due to the pressure by Christians and the Saeima repealed them has been found [45].) The Saeima started to review the draft law on amendments on February 21, 1928. The Legal Committee insisted on the norm that only certificates issued by the registry offices would have civil legal meaning and this was a compromise and not giving in to the Church, however, during the third reading the Committee had changed its opinion and the Saeima adopted the view convenient for the Church with the prevalence of 13 votes. The President announced amendments to both Laws on March 22. According to them a clergyman was allowed to solemnize marriages of inhabitants without proclamations at the registry office by notifying the concluded marriage to the registry office within 14 days [43]. Registration of the death, birth and marriage with a clergyman notifying it within 14 days was declared to be legal [42]. The amendments also provided for termination of litigation cases initiated against clergymen if they notified not reported civil status registration deeds to the registry office within three months following entry into force of the amendments [46].

Following adoption of amendments to the laws the number of marriages concluded at clergymen increased – in February of 1928 in Riga 68.6 % (205 out of 299) marriages were concluded at clergymen, 32.4 % (94) were concluded at the registry offices [52]. It was added that in the rural districts nobody wanted to hear of the registry offices any longer and they would soon be left without any job. 67 couples were married at Saldus Ev. Lutheran parish and just one in the registry office in 1928 [53]. Unpopularity of the registry offices among Latgalians is certified by the fact that even from 1936 to 1938 in Latgale in rural municipality of Kaplava 32 marriages were concluded of which only 2 (or 6.2 %) were concluded in the registry office, in rural municipality of Skaista these figures were 187 and 6 (3.2 %) and in rural municipality of Indra – 168 and 8 (4.8 %) accordingly [63].

However, Latvian intelligentsia were proud of the norm of the civil marriage. The journalist J. Paleckis informed readers of the newspaper "Jaunākās Ziņas" [Recent News] of the discussion of the issue of the civil marriage in Lithuania in 1932 with a sense that Latvia has achieved something that Lithuania still has not. „In all modern countries where the article of the State Constitution on the freedom of conscience of citizens is not just empty words the state is in charge of the registry issues. In Lithuania the Church keeps them in its hands and every attempt to carry out this reform at the Seima [Parliament] – to make the civil marriage, civil baptising and burial in graveyards of free believers – has been met with forceful objections by the clergy" [40]. The Lithuanian female Catholics supported the Church in its fight against the civil marriage which social democrats wanted to introduce [17]. The female Catholics were afraid that the divorce could hurt females more than males because women could be left alone with children. The Roma Catholic priests were strictly opposing the government attempts to implement registration of civil status deeds in Lithuania. In 1937 a special prayer against the registry office and for protection of the family against godlessness was introduced in the Church service. In 1939 prayers for the family and Catholicism were held turning against the norm providing for securing a permit from the registry office. Thus, in Lithuania confessional marriage was mandatory until 1940 according to the adopted law of the Russian Empire which was taken over and the civil marriage was an option [58, 88–89]. The journalist Paleckis informed the Latvian readers that Klaipėda region where the German law was in force and the registry offices existed was the only place where the civil marriage could be concluded in Lithuania. People who wanted to marry went to Klaipėda region, lived there for a certain period of time and then concluded the marriage contract, however, there were very few such enthusiasts. The question of metrication was often discussed also in Lithuania, besides, in 1932 the Lithuanian State Council was working on developing the law. „Until the issue is pending the public is trying to express its opinion. In Lithuanian mass media there is often polemics between the Christians and the left-wing, and broad meetings have been devoted to this issue lately", the journalist J. Paleckis wrote [40]. One of such meetings was organised by a group of women of the Social Democratic Party because only the civil marriage would make divorce, which was not possible in Lithuania, easier. Change of one’s confession was the only solution. Although this has not been simple, it was practised a lot among the Lithuanian intelligence according to the journalist. „Priests have been lobbying during last Seima election that the civil metrication meant the situation when a man could live for a couple of months with one woman and go to another when the first one was pregnant, then follow to the third one, and so on. Common people still have this opinion. Therefore tautininki started to work on this law with some doubt as it would serve as a powerful tool of lobby for the clergy. The reform experienced difficulties caused by the Concordat paragraph according to which the clergy was entrusted with maintenance of civil registry records. Therefore there was a draft according to which the optional metrication, i. e. the Church marriage deeds would be made by clergymen and for those who wanted to have the civil marriage the document would be made by the registry office. However, this situation could cause a lot of inconvenience and inclarity, at divorce in particular, because the Church also maintained its current legal status. Therefore the radical society of Lithuania demanded unified and mandatory civil metrication. This resolution was passed by the above meeting," J. Paleckis wrote. However, the entitlement of the Latvian people to conclude the civil marriage was not repealed even during the authoritarian regime of Kārlis Ulmanis (1934–1940) the politics of which strived to attain women not to have salaried work but to manage households of families [33, 84–99]. Divorcing marriages in such families women left almost no possibilities to receive job and they could not provide nor themselves, nor their children. Therefore the appeal, signed by "unfortunate mothers and wives", was made to Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis to modify the Law on Marriage to prohibit divorce of marriages where there were children [2]. Such an initiative came up to the rhetoric of the authoritarian regime nevertheless it did not gain the support in legislation thus giving evidence that the image of modern state was essential also for creators of regime.


Adoption of the norm that privileged civil status deeds concluded in registry offices was possible thanks to the popularity of socialistic views within the post-war society. In the discussion on marriage it turned out that members of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party and national conservative active women, as well as the centric parties had similar democratic views. It could be said that the most of public-spirited persons who got involved in politics were tolerant to or had secular world outlook. Besides, their influence in the politics of the early 1920ies was strong enough to expose them on the otherwise-minded.

The situation started to change in 1923 when the centric parties changed their views and admitted that the Church should be granted equal rights to those of the state concerning registration of the civil status deeds because it represented the believers which formed a considerable part of voters. The voting of centrists on behalf of right-wing side become critical point in Latvian politics and from 1924 to 1928 resulted in quite paternalistic politics as regards to social issues. It was evident in the prohibition of gambling, casino and betting in race course, the adopting of very severe law fighting the boozing and also in adopting the rules to protect the youth against the so called trash and smut literature.

People’s attempts to achieve adoption of amendments to the law on registration of civil status deeds lasted for eight years with more or less intensity (from 1921 to 1928). Requests to achieve adoption of amendments to the law were expressed by members and clergy of different confessions – Lutherans, Old-Believers, Jewish, Orthodox Believers, however, the Catholics were leading this stream of dissatisfaction. This insistence allows assume that the Christian marriage was considered ideal in Latvia not only by a part of rural residents, but also town residents, especially from the circles that had politically right-wing opinions. In the meeting of the Latvian Women’s Organisation temporary board in the beginning of 1928 a certain Zeltiņa even asserted that "rural women are certainly against the city women", because „in the Constitutional Assembly a woman defended the free love" [1]. By free love she had meant the fact that female Members of Parliament had voted in favour of simplification of the divorce procedure some time ago. Still the support to the Church marriage could be based not only upon Christian beliefs, but just pragmatic approach. In particular women wanted to conclude marriage in an institution which would provide more guarantee that it would not be easy to divorce this marriage, and this was what the Church promised. This was important in the situation when women were financially dependant upon men, their chances to settle their life and the life of their children after losing the source of income were very small. Families were poorest in Latgale where support to the Christian marriage was highest. I suppose that pragmatic approach could be strong in all regions of Latvia excepting Latgale due to initially seemingly neutral attitude to civil marriage that changed in the course of campaign realized by the clergy and its political lobbies thus representing the interest of the faithful.

Conclusion of marriage in the registry office was mostly recognised by left-wing people and/ or non-believers. Thus, from year 1928 the optional principle existed in the registration of civil status deeds in Latvia and by this the state granted clearly equal rights to both believers and non-believers.

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Pateikta spaudai 2011 m. gruodžio 23 d.


Sąmonės laisvės suvaržymas demokratijoje: katalikų protestai prieš Civilinės būklės aktų registravimo įstatymą Latvijoje (1921–1928)

Straipsnyje analizuojamas Latvijos gyventojų požiūrio į civilinę santuoką XX a. 3 deš. tyrimas. Tyrimo objektas yra gyventojų elgesys ir diskusijos dėl 1921 m. Latvijos Steigiamojo Seimo priimtų įstatymų dėl santuokos ir civilinės būklės aktų registravimo. Įstatymai suteikė išskirtinę civilinės būklės aktų registravimo teisę valstybei ir panaikino Bažnyčios privilegiją. Seimo nariai siekė išlaisvinti naujosios nepriklausomos Latvijos gyventojus iš senųjų buvusios Rusijos imperijos tradicijų ir tapti vadinamųjų civilizuotų Europos valstybių dalimi.

Tikėtina, kad nuostatos, kuri suteikė viršenybę civilinės metrikacijos skyriuose sudarytiems civilinės būklės aktams, priėmimą nulėmė socialistinių pažiūrų populiarumas pokarinėje visuomenėje. Diskusijos santuokos klausimu atskleidė panašias Latvijos socialdemokratinės darbininkų partijos narių, nacionalinės konservatorių partijos aktyvisčių bei centro partijų demokratines pažiūras. Galima teigti, kad dauguma į politiką įsitraukusių visuomeniškai nusiteikusių asmenų buvo tolerantiški arba išreiškė pasaulietišką požiūrį. Be to, jų politinė įtaka XX a. 3 deš. pradžioje buvo pakankama, kad paveiktų ir kitaminčius.

Nuostata, kuri suteikė išskirtinę teisę valstybei registruoti civilinės būklės aktus, sukėlė daugelio žmonių pasipriešinimą dar 1920 m., kai Steigiamasis Seimas ir visuomenė pradėjo diskutuoti šių įstatymų klausimais. Situacija ėmė keistis 1923 m., kai centro partijų požiūris pasikeitė ir jos pripažino, kad Bažnyčiai turi būti suteiktos vienodos teisės kaip ir valstybei registruojant civilinės būklės aktus, nes ji atstovavo tikintiesiems, kurie sudarė nemažą dalį rinkėjų. Dešiniuosius palaikantis centristų balsavimas buvo pagrindinis Latvijos politikos lūžio taškas, nulėmęs gana paternalistinę socialinę politiką nuo 1924 m. iki 1928 m. Tai akivaizdžiai atsiskleidė uždraudžiant lošimus, kazino ir lažybas lenktynėse, priimant itin griežtą su girtavimu kovojantį įstatymą bei taisykles, saugančias jaunimą nuo nepadorios literatūros. 1928 m. tikinčiųjų gyventojų nepasitenkinimas nulėmė įstatymų pakeitimus, ir bažnyčiai buvo suteiktos lygios teisės kaip ir valstybei registruojant civilinės būklės aktus. Prašymus priimti įstatymo pakeitimus pateikė įvairių konfesijų atstovai ir dvasininkija – liuteronai, sentikiai, žydai, stačiatikiai. Visgi katalikai buvo pačioje nepasitenkinimo bangos viršūnėje. Toks atkaklumas leidžia teigti, kad krikščionišką santuoką Latvijoje idealu laikė ne tik dalis kaimo gyventojų, bet taip pat ir miestiečiai, ypač priklausiusieji dešiniųjų politinių pažiūrų grupei.

Visgi bažnytinės santuokos propagavimas gali būti grindžiamas ne tik krikščionišku tikėjimu, bet ir pragmatiniu požiūriu. Moterys ypač troško sudaryti santuoką institucijoje, kuri teikė daugiau garantijų, kad tokią santuoką nutraukti būtų sunku, o tai Bažnyčia ir žadėjo. Tai buvo svarbu dėl to, kad moterys finansiškai priklausė nuo vyrų; jų galimybės susitvarkyti savo ir savo vaikų gyvenimą praradus pragyvenimo šaltinį buvo labai menkos. Latgala, kur gyveno daugiausiai nepasiturinčių šeimų, labiausiai rėmė krikščionišką santuoką. Manau, kad pragmatinis požiūris galėjo būti stiprus visuose Latvijos regionuose, išskyrus Latgalą, dėl pradžioje atrodžiusio neutralaus požiūrio į civilinę santuoką, kuris pasikeitė dėl dvasininkijos ir jos politinių lobistų, atstovaujančių tikinčiųjų interesams įgyvendintos kampanijos.

Santuokos sudarymą civilinės metrikacijos biure labiausiai palaikė kairieji ir/arba netikintieji. Taigi nuo 1928 m. Latvijoje įsigaliojo laisvo pasirinkimo principas registruojant civilinės būklės aktus, ir tuo valstybė suteikė akivaizdžiai lygias teises tiek tikintiesiems, tiek ir netikintiesiems.