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Gay-marriage bill is rejected

Gay-marriage bill is rejected

Posted: December 08, 1999

By Bohdana Dimitrovova and Katka Fronk

Homosexual rights have been dealt yet another major setback by Czech lawmakers. By rejecting a landmark bill that would have given homosexual couples the right to marry and enjoy legal status comparable to that of married heterosexual couples, with the exception of the opportunity to adopt children, the Chamber of Deputies appeared to draw a sexual line in the sand. The Dec. 2 vote marked the second time the bill has faltered. Even though vocal opponents maintain that the legislation would erode family values, many observers believed it stood a chance of passage on its second try. Passage would instantly have placed the Czech Republic among the more liberal countries in connection with gay rights. "I'm really disappointed," said Dagmar Krizkova, a former nun and co-founder of LOGOS, a gay Christian organization. "A lot of people were hoping that this time the bill would pass." The latest amended version of the bill passed a first reading last April but was returned to parliamentary committees for consideration in June. The latest defeat saw 20 Christian Democratic (KDU-CSL) deputies voting against the measure. Overall, the bill was rejected 91-69, with the Civic Democrats (ODS) casting another 26 nays. There were 13 abstentions. Legal vs. moral Cyril Svoboda, deputy chairman of the predominantly Catholic KDU-CSL, said his party rejected the bill primarily on legal grounds, not religious ones. "The proposal asked for both notarization [a legal agreement confirming gay partnership] and registration like the one a couple automatically gets when they are married," Svoboda said. In other words, a same-sex couple would be required to register their marriage twice. "Legally, that is an absurd situation," Svoboda said. Petr Kodl, an attorney for the gay-rights group SOHO, said he was surprised by Svoboda's comments. "Svoboda dismissed the law from the beginning, without discussing it," Kodl said. "It's an excuse, not an argument." Meanwhile, even Krizkova acknowledged that her friends had expressed some doubts about the bill's legal propriety. Added Miluse Kotisova, media spokeswoman for the lesbian organization Promluv: "Heterosexuals see the law as a threat ... They are looking for causes (for the collapse of the family) where they are not. The law is about a minority and their rights, not about the quality of the family or the marriage. (Opponents) are looking for any argument they can use." Despite the defeat, the bill's drafters say they'll keep pressing ahead with their cause. Jan Zahradil, one of the bill's four authors, said he hopes a new draft will become law some time before the 2002 elections. "We will continue trying," said Zahradil, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee for European integration. "But even if we change the law many times, the [Christian Democrats] will never vote in favor of this bill because of its moral beliefs." Although the KDU-CSL counts only 20 members in the Chamber of Deputies, its lobbying can sabotage legislation the party sees as potentially anti-Catholic. The current version of the bill is an adaptation of Scandinavian law. With the exception of the right to adopt, that law gives the same rights to same-sex couples that married couples have, including legal registration in the marriage register, tax and health-care benefits and inheritance, property and hospital-visitation rights. Zahradil remains optimistic. "I believe that in the end this bill will become a law after all," he said, "because Czech society is relatively open and the deputies will have to adapt." Concluded Kotisova: "The generation of politicians who are in politics now won't be there much longer. I think that in a year or two the law can be passed."

By Bohdana Dimitrovova and Katka Fronk

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