The Czech government has backed a draft amendment to the Civil Code that would legalize same-sex marriages. The amendment, which would give homosexuals the same marital rights as heterosexuals, including the possibility to adopt children, will now go to the lower house for debate.
The issue of same- sex marriages has been a battleground in Parliament for a long time and previous efforts to push it through have hit the rocks, mainly due to opposition to the idea of homosexuals being allowed to adopt children and arguments that gay couples should not be placed on a par with heterosexual marriages. The fact that such a bill has now received backing from the government gives its supporters reason to hope that this time round things will be different. However opponents of the bill are ready to fight it all the way and Czeslaw Walek, head of the NGO It’s Only Fair and active campaigner for LGBT rights says the battle for equal rights is not over.
“We have 46 supporters of our bill in the lower house and the opposition has 37 supporters of a counter bill, so the majority of MPs are undecided or are not supporting either of those bills. We have to make sure that the majority of MPs are listening to society, because 75 percent of Czechs think that if two people love each other they should be allowed to get married regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Close to 3,000 gay and lesbian couples are now living in registered partnerships in the Czech Republic thanks to a law approved in 2006 after years of stormy debate in the lower house and vehement opposition from the Christian Democratic Party. Now the party has launched a new counter-offensive, calling for a definition of marriage as “the union of one man and one woman” to be enshrined in the country’s constitution. They have been drumming up support for the need to protect what they call traditional family values and argue that homosexuals neither need nor deserve the option of full marital status. Czeslav Walek says that the proposal to change the constitution so as to prevent homosexuals getting equal rights is outrageous.
“To propose a change of the basic Declaration of Rights and Freedoms in order to exclude one group of citizens from enjoying those rights and freedoms is pure evil. Under the proposed bill we would gain the same rights as straight couples have. It is nothing extra. We do not want extra rights, extra freedoms. I just think it is fair that gays and lesbians living in the Czech Republic have the same rights as heterosexuals.”
A debate on the issue is expected in the lower house after its summer break. The bill legalizing same sex marriages would only need to win a simple majority, while the amendment to the constitution, pushed by the Christian Democrats, would require a constitutional majority of 120 votes. Both proposals have support across the political spectrum, but observers predict that this time round the bill on same-sex marriages has a good chance of winning approval. If it does, the Czech Republic would be the first country of the former communist bloc, to give homosexuals full marital status.