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Gay marriage bill likely to win approval

Gay marriage bill likely to win approval

Posted: March 17, 1999

By Jana Pinterova and Michele Legge

Proposal to recognize same-sex partnerships would place Czechs in forefront on gay rights. If it clears all of the legal hurdles, proposed legislation legally recognizing partnerships between homosexual couples will put the Czech Republic among the world's most liberal nations where gay rights are concerned. The proposed law gives homosexual couples the opportunity to legally declare their relationship on the basis of an agreement and will afford them rights comparable to those of married heterosexual couples, excluding the right to adopt children. It is due to be discussed in Parliament in the session beginning Tuesday, March 23. "If the law is passed, Czech society will come into line with the most humanitarian and liberal societies," Petr Uhl, Czech commissioner for human rights, told the daily Mlada fronta Dnes March 11. Similar legislation is already in place in all the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Hungary; it is being debated in many European countries including France, Britain and Germany. Drawn up by a group of deputies from several parties, the proposal was approved March 10 by the Cabinet. The bill is widely expected to pass through the legal process, and if so will come into force on Jan. 1, 2000. Before then, the proposal has to pass three readings in Parliament, then a Senate vote, and finally receive the president's seal of approval. Jaroslav Zverina, Civic Democratic Party (ODS) deputy and chairman of the parliamentary committee for European integration, said he believed the bill will receive the thumbs up. "About half of the deputies are against it, ideologically," he said. But the bill's main supporters - the governing center-left Social Democrats (CSSD) and the Communists (KSCM) - will tilt the balance in favor of passing the law, Zverina, who is also a sexologist, predicted. A year ago, a similar proposal was shot down in Parliament. It faced its strongest opposition from the Republicans (SPR-RSC), Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA). Of those three parties, only the predominantly Catholic KDU-CSL retained seats in the parliamentary elections last June. Based on criticism of last year's proposal, two major changes were made. If one member of a couple is a foreigner, he or she must have approval for permanent residency in the Czech Republic, and conditions for divorce were tightened. Despite the tinkering, the bill still has vocal opponents. Pavel Tollner of the KDU-CSL is one of them. "If the law passes, it could endanger the privileged status of the family," he said. "The law for me is absolutely not acceptable." He also said he thought there was no need for the Czech Republic to be among the first countries to have such legislation in place. ODS deputy Marek Benda shed light on what could be one of the sticking points of the bill. He contends that homosexual partnerships will never serve the same purpose as heterosexual families, that is, to bring up children. Yet the proposal offers homosexual couples tax breaks, for example, which are intended to cater for families who raise children, he said. Benda said he believed the status of homosexuals can be lifted by amending individual laws, rather than introducing the proposed new legislation. The bill is superfluous, he said, because it would serve only a very small proportion of society. Jiri Hromada, president of the Association of Homosexual Citizens' Organizations (SOHO), rejected Benda's argument. He said the issue is not how many people will take direct advantage of the law, but that homosexuals will have the same rights and obligations within their relationships as heterosexual couples, including inheritance, property and hospital visitation rights. Miluse Kotisova, a language teacher who is a member of lesbian organization Promluv (Speak Out), agreed. Finally, not only will homosexuals be accepted as individuals within society, she said, but also there will be acknowledgment that homosexual couples also play a part in society. Vaclav Jamek, gay author and civil servant working in the international relations section of the Foreign Ministry, said he wouldn't rule out registering his partnership. "I've been with my partner for 23 years," said Jamek, 49. "When I was [working in the Czech Embassy] in Paris for three years, my partner had no right to come with me." During that time, Jamek's partner remained in Prague. "Even though our relationship didn't fall apart," Jamek said, it would have been better to have the choice to be together.

By Jana Pinterova and Michele Legge

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