Latvia swears in EU’s first openly gay president

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Latvia swears in EU’s first openly gay president

Latvia’s long-serving foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics has become the first openly gay head of state of a European Union nation.

Mr Rinkevics, who had served as foreign minister since 2011, was sworn in as Latvia’s president on Saturday in Riga.

Although generally a ceremonial position, Latvia’s president can veto legislation and call referendums.

The EU has had openly gay heads of governments before, but never a gay head of state.

In many countries, the heads of state and heads of government are different people – for example a president and prime minister. Former Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo was the EU’s first openly gay head of government.

Mr Rinkevics, 49, first came out in 2014 and has been a vocal champion of LGBT rights ever since.

Gay marriage is illegal in Latvia, though the country’s constitutional court recognised same sex unions last year.

In May, Mr Rinkevics was elected by Latvia’s parliament to be the country’s next president at the third round of voting.

On Saturday in his inaugural speech, Mr Rinkevics vowed to continue supporting Ukraine’s ongoing war effort against Russia.

He said Latvia’s foreign policy “does not have time for mistakes”, adding he will act “quickly, decisively and wisely”.

Also in his speech, Mr Rinkevics encouraged young Latvians to “break the glass ceiling” as he addressed inequality as being a “significant problem”.

“The social divide in our society is too big,” he said.

“During my presidency, I will stand up for the creation of a modern and strong Latvia, for a legal and just Latvia, for the wellbeing of the people, for an inclusive and respectful society.

“And it is possible for all of us to achieve this by working together.”

Mr Rinkevics takes over from Egils Levits who served as president for four years and will represent Latvia at Nato’s summit next week in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Latvia is one of three Baltic states, including Lithuania and Estonia, which joined the EU in 2004 after breaking away from the crumbling Soviet Union in the early 1990s.