A chance for civil unions

“I DO.” Even those residents of Slovakia who can’t or don’t want to say those words in front of a priest or a municipal official, now have the support of the majority of Slovakia’s citizens to have their cohabitation registered in another way.

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

Some 50.4 percent of respondents in an August 2015 poll by the Focus polling agency affirmed that they thought “couples who do not want to or cannot be married have the possibility of having a life partnership approved by the state which would regulate the practical questions of their coexistence, particularly their shared rights and responsibilities”. The survey was ordered by the Life Partnership platform consisting of 39 NGOs who promote the idea of introducing the life partnership status with the same rights and duties as in marriage, including the establishment of undivided ownership or tax reliefs.

Though the approving majority is only slightly more than half of Slovaks, it is the first time in Slovakia’s history that those in favour of registered partnerships as an alternative to marriage, outnumber those who oppose it.

And this is despite the fact that not so long ago, in fact still only a few months back, Slovakia experienced a campaign which was officially meant to support the traditional marriage and family model, but in reality featured hard-line anti-gay arguments including the emblematic label “the culture of death” used across the country in political speeches and church sermons.

The LGBTI community can feel satisfied that their ‘less is more’ strategy seems to be working. By scrapping this year’s edition of the LGBTI pride march in Bratislava, they have deprived the organisers of the opposing pro-life march of their nemesis, and avoided sparking emotions that reached elevated levels as recently as two years ago.

Now they posed the question about registered partnerships differently, trying to show that gays and lesbians are no different when it comes to the desire, or also the need, for a legally recognised life partnership. In fact the word “registered” has been omitted from the question altogether.

There are more and more such couples in Slovakia, living together and bringing up their children “paper-free”. A recent report on the health of the Slovak population showed that 39 percent of all the children who were born in Slovakia in 2014 were born out of wedlock, a trend that the experts called “transformation of family types” and that is expected to continue in the years to come.

That is one more reason the ruling Smer party, which proudly uses “social democracy” in its very name, should support such an initiative. A recent warning has Smer on the verge of being kicked out of the European socialist club. Though the issue at stake was the attitude to refugees rather than the attitude toward sexual minorities, the Party of European Socialists has already warned Robert Fico and his party that it will be closely watched by its peers in the coming months.

This is an opportunity for Smer to do something that would please its European partners by including registered partnership in the election programme and going beyond a recent promise to analyse the situation.

If they did so, MPs when faced with the question whether they plan to adopt measures to this end in the future, wouldn’t have to say, as the Justice Ministry did a few months ago, that they “need to follow the government’s programme statement which does not mention the implementation of registered or life partnerships”.

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