Ukrainian gay couple hope Danish wedding will change mindsets at home

KIEV (Reuters) - Before Kiev celebrates Pride on Sunday, Roman Ivasiy and Anton Pozdnyakov want to speak publicly about their wedding in the hope it will help change hostile attitudes toward same-sex couples in Ukraine and give courage to those “struck dumb with fear”.

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Same-sex unions are not legally recognized in Ukraine and Pozdnyakov, 32, and Ivasiy, 27, wed in a ceremony attended by their friends in Copenhagen’s city hall in May.

Under Western-backed leadership, Ukraine’s parliament passed legislation in 2015 to ban discrimination in the workplace as part of a series of laws Ukraine needed to pass to qualify for an European Union visa-free travel agreement.

But activists say homophobia remains widespread.

“There are people who are afraid to even think about (marrying a same-sex partner). And because of this way of thinking, they are unable find a soul mate, because they are struck dumb with fear, pure fear, and they are unhappy,” Pozdnyakov said.

Sunday’s march in Kiev - part of “Pride Month” celebrated by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world - regularly attracts counter protests by right-wing and religious activists.

Earlier this week people attending a film screening held as part of Pride Month were attacked in the street, prompting the U.S. Embassy to call on law enforcement to help ensure Ukrainians could attend the march safely and without fear.

Human rights groups last year wrote an open letter to the authorities criticizing police inaction in response to violence against ethnic minorities, women’s rights activists and LGBT people.

For Ivasiy, a doctor, getting married to Pozdynakov, an event manager, was the second most important step for the couple behind gaining their families’ approval for the relationship.

He did not tell his family about his sexuality until he and Pozdnyakov had been dating for two years. When he told his mother, Ivasiy says she had two questions:

“If this would ever change, and I said ‘no’. (The second thing) she asked was if I understood that this would be difficult for me. I said ‘yes’. And that’s it. She said that everything was fine, and that she loved me as she did before.”

Pozdnyakov found coming out to his mother much easier. She raised him on her own and they had always been close. It was she who asked whether he was gay when he was still a teenager.

The lack of legal recognition for Ivasiy and Pozdnyakov’s marriage in Ukraine posed another potential problem, though one which the couple hope will never occur: “We can’t get divorced,” said Ivasiy.

“There is no divorce procedure in Denmark ... the only way will be when Ukrainian authorities recognize our marriage, and can divorce us. Therefore, our country is the biggest guarantor of our marriage, no matter how paradoxical that sounds.”

Editing by Matthias Williams and Raissa Kasolowsky