Hidden minority wants out of the closet

“WE ARE having our third anniversary on Friday,” said Andrej, 30, smiling, who lives with his partner Milan, 30. They spend holidays, family celebrations and take trips together like any other couple, but the law does not see it the same way.

Slovakia’s LGBTI community seeks to expand their rights.Slovakia’s LGBTI community seeks to expand their rights. (Source: Kristína Hamárová)

“WE ARE having our third anniversary on Friday,” said Andrej, 30, smiling, who lives with his partner Milan, 30. They spend holidays, family celebrations and take trips together like any other couple, but the law does not see it the same way.

“When I was 18 people told me to move abroad because of my orientation rather than stay in Slovakia,” Andrej said. “The situation is better right now, but I don’t believe that there will be any possibility [for same-sex couples] in Slovakia to register or get married for at least the next 10 years.”

Like other same-sex pairs in Slovakia, Andrej and Milan, have no problem talking about their relationship, but also ask that their full names not be used so as not to face discrimination. The community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual (LGBTI) persons is still one of the most denigrated minorities in Slovakia.

LGBTI rights have become a regular topic in social life all around Europe and Slovakia has been part of this process as well.

“There is some research every other year which shows that the number of people who accept different attributes connected to LGBTI rights has risen,” Romana Schlesinger, executive director of the Queer Leaders Forum, told The Slovak Spectator.

Still, legislation on discrimination and related issues in Slovakia remains stagnant. Too many high-level politicians remain convinced that LGBTI rights are opposed by the country’s Christians.

“Cooperation with political parties is like position warfare for the long term,” Schlesinger said.

Living with a same-sex partner in Slovakia is legal, but there is no law regulating registered partnerships or marriages for same-sex couples. This means up to 10 percent of the population cannot make their relationship official to arrange their legal issues, as is possible in marriages of heterosexual couples.

These people are forced to live in informal relationships with limited possibilities to make their cohabitation official. Paula Babicová, a lawyer working for Queer Leaders Forum, told The Slovak Spectator that politicians assert that there is no necessity of law for registered partnerships because of other collateral possibilities, like full power of attorney.

When compared to the situation of spouses, gay partners in Slovakia cannot form a family in a way that is defined by the law on family, which defines a family as a union of a man and a woman and a child.

“Such a principle is an interference into the legal role of classical family, and cannot be acceptable for us,” said Pavol Hrušovský, a key member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) party, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

In terms of property rights, there is no sharing of the property with related rights and duties as is the case with spouses. There is no duty to support the other partner after a break-up in the same way as gay couples are not eligible for widow or widower’s pension. The inheritance rules that apply to spouses do not apply to gay couples either, according to a handbook prepared for the LGBTI community.

Attempts at change

Until now there have been only two attempts to bring to parliament a draft law about registered partnerships. The first was in 2001 during the first government of Mikuláš Dzurinda and the second in 2012 during Prime Minister Robert Fico’s current government. They both failed in their first reading.

“The discussion was emotional, with some religious undertones rather than a constructive one,” said Babicová, co-author of the second draft.

The proposal was put forward by MPs Martin Poliačik, Lucia Nicholsonová and Juraj Droba. It was based on Czech legislation, Babicová said.

“This draft law is a crazy legislative effort to slip up the whole law system,” Hrušovský told TASR before it went before parliament.

Just 14 MPs supported the draft. Nicholsonová told The Slovak Spectator that as many as 95 percent of MPs have outdated opinions.

“We are not thinking of re-submitting the draft right now,” Babicová said. “There are other chances to assert LGBTI rights in preparations for a revised Civil Code.”

A special Committee for the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual People was created at the end of 2012 within the Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality. It is overseen by the Justice Ministry and consists of representatives from ministries, civic associations and specialists in field. The main aim is the preparation of a new national strategy for supporting human rights in Slovakia.

According to Martin Macko, the chairman of the committee and director of the civic association Otherness (Inakosť) Initiative, this strategy should summarise all changes that have been made in the field of human rights in Slovakia in the last 20 years. It is obligatory that the government discuss the recommendations from the council.

There are some associations and non-government organisations that do not agree with the draft of the strategy and some want to keep LGBTI persons out of the draft. The Foreign Ministry, which is responsible for the human rights agenda in the current cabinet, revealed that it has become the target of an organised hate campaign that started after the presentation of the draft strategy for the protection and support of human rights in Slovakia, which includes a section on LGBTI rights.
“To eliminate this aspect of LGBTI rights from some strategic documents as this one would be a total failure,” said Schlesinger, who is a member of the LGBTI committee.

The date for completing the recommendations and draft strategy has been postponed until June 2014.
“Nothing has happened in the last 20 years in the field of LGBTI people’s rights,” Macko said. “We have only one antidiscrimination law that keeps us on the lowest standard of the European Union. We have fallen behind all our neighbours.”

A long way to go

Macko told The Slovak Spectator that the environment for the LGBTI community in Slovakia is among the worst in central Europe and the European Union overall. There are ways to register or marry in a few neighbouring countries, but Babicová notes that even if an LGBTI couple marries in a country allowing same-sex marriages, the Slovak state will not recognise that marriage. However, in the case of a legally married same-sex foreign couple, as part of rules governing the free movement of persons in the European Union, the Slovak state will have to accept it.

The LGBTI community in Slovakia has close ties with their counterparts in the Czech Republic. There are many cases when Slovaks with same-sex partners from the Czech Republic use the possibility of a registered partnership.

“Registration in the Czech Republic is only a matter of paperwork, just like a civil marriage,” said Zuzana, 24, who has done so herself.

According to Schlesinger, not all of the foreign legislations are ideal, but still better than nothing. For example, Czech legislation directly suppresses the right to adopt children after the registration of partners. In Austria, people who get into a registered partnership and want to use a partner’s surname need to hyphenate the names. Among the countries with Europe’s most liberal policies are the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium – places where legislation legitimises both same-sex marriages and adoption rights.

In Slovakia, those sorts of changes do not appear to be coming anytime soon. Jana, 26, has lived with her girlfriend for three and half years.

“Some couples have full-value relationships without any papers and I often listen to the argument that I could legally handle some situations without marriage,” she told The Slovak Spectator. “But I also feel this means that my love is less valued than the love of somebody else only because it’s for somebody of the same sex – that I’m kind of a second-class citizen.”

The articles included in the “Reporting on Diversity” supplement were created by authors enrolled in the “Reporting on Diversity” programme organised by The Slovak Spectator in cooperation with the Journalism Department at Comenius University and with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava. The programme seeks to train young journalists and journalism students for covering ethnicity, gender, race and religious issues, as well as other phenomena related to various communities and the challenges they face in Slovakia. The articles were prepared in line with strict journalistic ethical and reporting standards.

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