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Partnerships: True test of the 'progressives'

POSTVIEW

Posted: September 14, 2005

Currently in America, at least one state offers gay people legal marriage, and a number of others provide for registered domestic partnerships, allowing them to enjoy benefits similar to spouses but without the religious or official label of "marriage."

In the Czech Republic, where the dominant religion is atheism and intellectuals scoff at the American fixation with Christianity, not a single gay couple can marry, and not a single government, state or local, offers registered partnerships.

Think about that: On an issue of progressive social policy, the United States actually stands farther out front than the Czech Republic, where citizens pride themselves on a "live and let live" coexistence of mutual respect.

This fall, Parliament will once more take up the issue of domestic partnerships as advocates again attempt to pass a law that has been successfully blocked four times prior, the last time by only one vote. The law would create procedures for registering and dissolving same-gender partnerships, allowing a partner to inherit property when one of them dies, file joint tax returns and be granted the rights of family members under health, housing and citizenship laws.

Does that sound so catastrophic? To hear opponents from the conservative Christian Democrats describe it, the law would threaten heterosexual marriage and doom the family system itself — to say nothing of endangering the upbringing of children.

Such arguments seem almost intentionally disingenuous: Registered partnerships could not possibly endanger marriage, since — as opponents no doubt quietly appreciate — the bill doesn't address the institution of "marriage," nor does it propose for gay people the right to wed. Both the sanctity of the family and the safe upbringing of children, meanwhile, would continue on just fine: We have a difficult time imagining that a youngster or adolescent would suddenly turn homosexual after watching someone file a joint tax return.

A number of countries, such as the Netherlands and Canada, already recognize full gay marriage rights. Even the unshakably Catholic nation of Spain has legalized gay marriage, and numerous others have authorized some form of registered domestic partnerships. So what has halted such progress here?

Gays and lesbians represent only an estimated 4 percent of the Czech population, and too often the ruling party has used the question of domestic partnerships as a bartering stone to trade off for other more politically lucrative issues. Parliament had even approved a version of the partnership law in April 1998, only to negotiate it away, sacrificing it to legislative expediency.

The notion of registered partnerships does not itself disquiet the waters of public opinion, so it's time for legislators to recognize that true political leadership sometimes requires them to champion the issues that are right rather than the issues that are merely popular.

Under the nation's previous communist regime, gays suffered under decades of drastic political repression, treated as criminals, mental deviants and worse. And yet now, even the communists — whose favorite color is, shall we say, a decidedly darker shade of pink — have embraced the individual rights of homosexuals and officially endorsed the partnership bill.

The Christian Democrats should now do the same.

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