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Registered partners bill likely to fall

Presidential veto could put issue on political backburner for longer

Posted: February 08, 2006

By Brandon Swanson

A Senate-approved bill allowing registered partnerships for gay couples will likely die if President Václav Klaus does not sign it into law, say politicians on both sides of the issue.

Klaus has until Feb. 12 to reach a decision on the measure. If he vetoes it or refuses to sign it, it will be sent back to the Chamber of Deputies, where it would need a 101-vote majority to become law.

It received only 86 votes when it passed Dec. 16.

"I wouldn't be all that optimistic," said Jitka Kupčová, Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) Chamber deputy chairwoman and one of the bill's sponsors.

Members of the senior opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) state the matter more bluntly.

"I am afraid that if the president returns the bill to the chamber, then it will not be passed," said Jaroslav Kubera, head of the Senate's Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

The bill would give same-sex couples many of the legal rights afforded to married couples.

Under the proposed legislation, same-sex partners would be able to file joint tax returns, inherit property from each other and visit each other in the hospital. It would also require a form of alimony payment if the partnership ends, and would allow homosexual couples to raise children, but not adopt them — a right still reserved only for married couples.

Similar bills have been proposed and rejected several times in the past.

Klaus told reporters he would not talk publicly about the bill until he reached his decision, but said they could look at his past comments as an indicator of what he might do. He has opposed registered partnerships in the past.

"I have sufficiently voiced my views on it in the media," he said.

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Election-time aversion

Tereza Kodičková, a spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian League, said she would be worried if the chamber had to re-vote this close to June's general election.

"Many deputies and senators are very cautious before any elections and sensitive to what they do," she said. "That's why we feared that the closer to the election date, the worse for the proposed draft."

The election itself could pose a problem for those who want to see registered partnership legislation pass.

Registered partnership has the public support of Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek and an overwhelming majority of his Social Democrats. But the conservative ODS, which currently holds a slim lead in the polls, are divided on the issue — which could slow further efforts to pass such legislation.

Gay-rights groups in favor of registered partnership say they have been waiting for 15 years for some form of legal recognition. They worry that if Klaus sends the bill back to the chamber, it would delay registered partnerships for at least another year.

The current legislation took eight months to reach Klaus' desk.

Nearly a decade ago, a registered partnership bill in the Chamber of Deputies fell two votes short. Last year, another such bill fell one vote short.

The issue will not go away, and politicians are beginning to accept this, Kodičková said. That's one reason why it has seen increased political support recently.

"The fact that this issue has been discussed for so long — over and over again — made politicians finally consider it seriously," she said.

Warming to the idea

Kodičková said some type of registered partnership law is inevitable.

If she is right, the Czech Republic would be the first former communist country with such a law on its books.

Public opinion polls show the country evenly divided on the issue. Support for registered partnership is lower than the European Union average. but the highest of the new EU member states. Some 57 percent of EU citizens are in favor of some form of registered partnership.

However, support for allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt remains less than 40 percent here.

Currently, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands are the only EU countries that allow same-sex marriage. Twelve countries, including France and Germany, allow for registered partnerships, civil unions or some similar recognition.

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania are the only EU countries that have defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman.

— Petr Kašpar contributed to this report.

By Brandon Swanson

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