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Gay partnership law likely

More than a decade after being proposed, equal rights could pass

Posted: September 14, 2005

By Andrew Steven Harris

For 30-year-old Markéta Krausová and her partner Petra, the question is simple: "I'm a human being, like you," Krausová said. "And if you can get married, then why is it that I can't?"

The Czech government may soon be answering that question. The Cabinet has approved a proposal to authorize registered partnerships — just short of marriage — for gay and lesbian couples, giving them virtually all the rights enjoyed by husbands and wives except for adoption.

The proposal now must go before Parliament, and if approved, to President Václav Klaus for his signature. Many Czech gays and lesbians would regard it as a quantum leap forward in their efforts to achieve equal rights.

"It's the first step in considering these kinds of rights in our society," said Petra, Krausová's 26-year-old partner. "It's really just the first step to say: We are here, and try to think about our community."

When the government planned to update its civil code on family law in 1995, the hopes of gays and lesbians soared: Political leaders supported a registered-partnership proposal based on the Danish model that excepting adoption would have given homosexual couples every right enjoyed by married people.

But by the end of the year, the registered-partnership bill was dead.

During the next 10 years, it resurfaced several times, coming within two votes of approval in 1997. In April 1999 it failed again. In February of this year, it fell short again, this time by only one vote.

Although Social Democrat Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek endorses the registered partnership plan, many political analysts suggest that the opposition right-wing Civic Democratic Party, which doesn't officially support the bill, will gain seats in the next parliamentary elections, putting the bill's future in jeopardy.

Renewing hopes for some, oddly enough, is the position of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM). Though not historically a backer of individual rights, the party endorses the legislation.

"KSČM deputies will support the motion," said MP Václav Exner, the KSČM deputy chairman.

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The bill would stop short of formally legalizing gay marriage, but registered partners could file joint tax returns, enjoy inheritance rights, get hospital visitation rights and access to medical records. Mutual alimony-style obligations are also included.

Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), without directly criticizing different sexual orientations, oppose the bill, arguing that state recognition of gay partnerships threatens traditional family values and child rearing.

"The vast majority of the party will vote against it," said Vilém Holáň, member of Parliament for the KDU-ČSL. "It is a question of principle: We want to protect the role of the family."

It is an argument that unsettles many gays and lesbians, because they say it suggests to the public that they pose a risk to society — a concept that, in the post-communist era, many homosexuals have worked to change.

"I think that we still have the heritage that homosexual people were on the illness list, so there are still some people who think we should be treated like ill people or get some kind of treatment," said Krausová, who with Petra would be interested in pursuing a domestic partnership should Parliament finally pass the law.

"I think that if this proposal would become part of our legal system, it would be as if our government said, 'Hey people, gays and lesbians are completely fine and they have these rights,'" said Krausová.

The couple also noted that many Czechs remain divided even in their own minds over what they like to think they support and what they actually support. "It's a kind of homophobic approach," Petra said. "It's not aggressive, but it's just looking away and saying, 'I don't want to see this part of our society.'"

Noted Krausová, "Quite a lot of people say that they're fine with gays: 'I have no problem with homosexuals.' But if you come to them and ask them to sign a petition to support this proposal, then it's a problem."

For such couples, a registered-partnership law that stops short of legalized gay marriage would represent incomplete progress toward their goal of equal rights but would be a welcome development nonetheless.

"If I would decide to [register], for me it would be an act that I honor the person, that I love the person, and that I want to stay with you," Krausová said. "But at the same time, I would have to solve the problem that this kind of registered partnership is discriminating — because what I want is to marry."

By Andrew Steven Harris

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