One of Estonia’s most prominent gay men has announced that he is to run for a seat in the country’s parliament in next year’s general election.

Andi Ravalepik told Eesti Paevaleht newspaper that he will be contesting a seat in the 101-member Riigikogu in the March 2007 general election.

The 27-year-old, who runs a gay and lesbian information centre in the capital, Tallinn, is joining the minority Social Democratic party ticket.

Two if the parties who form the current coalition government have said they would “tolerate” same sex marriage, while the Social Democrats are actively campaigning for the extension of marital rights to gay couples.

Mr Ravalepik said he would campaign for human rights, which includes the rights of gays and lesbians.

“A seat in Parliament gives a person the status of a public figure, which permits the person to be seen, have a say and through this to make Estonia better and more tolerant,” Ravalepik told the newspaper.

“I’m not going to stand narrowly for gays, lesbians and transsexuals. Instead, I wish to dedicate myself to social issues in the broader sense,” he said.

In December 2005, a new Family Law proposal by the Estonian Ministry of Justice explicitly stated that marriage is exlusive to heretosexual couples.

There was an outcry from gay activists, which sparked much public discussion of the subject. Various right-wing parties have opposed any extension of matrimonial rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Earlier this year the Dutch ambassador to Estonia resigned in protest at constant homophobic abuse suffered by him and his gay partner.

“It is not very nice to be regularly abused by drunken skinheads … and to be continuously gawped at as if you have just stepped out of a UFO,” Hans Glaubitz said in June.

Mr Glaubitz had represented his country with his Cuban partner, Raul Garcia Lao without problems in Brazil and South Africa, but after only 7 months in Tallinn, the couple felt that the abuse they were suffering had become unbearable.

Homosexuality was legalised in Estonia in 1999, and as part of its obligations for entry into the EU.

If Estonia were to approve same-sex marriage, they would become the first former Soviet republic to do so.