Bill on single sex partnerships makes it through both houses of Parliament

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After seven years of intensive lobbying the Czech gay and lesbian community has finally come close to reaching its goal: on Thursday the upper house of Parliament, the Senate, passed a bill that would give legal recognition to single sex partnerships. If the bill is signed by the president, the Czech Republic would become the first post-communist state to legalize gay marriages.

The bill on same-sex partnerships would give gay and lesbian couples some of the advantages of a traditional marriage: they would have inheritance rights, the right to be informed about the other's health and the right to raise children, although it would not allow adoption. But first and foremost, it is a bill that spells "acceptance" and that places homosexuals on an equal footing with the heterosexual majority. Tereza Kodickova, a spokesperson for the gay and lesbian initiative, who lobbied for the bill in Parliament, explains how they managed to convince MPs to vote for the bill.

"Well, I think that the most important thing was that they actually saw us and that they saw that we are no different, that we are just normal people. And then of course we used the argument of the European Union a lot and of equal rights and equal treatment and the fact that registered partnerships of this kind exist in other countries. We pointed out the fact that these people are not ill, they are not sinners, they are citizens like any other and have the right to be treated in the same way as the others are."

While the gay community celebrated the outcome of Thursday's vote, the Christian Democrats, who have consistently opposed the bill, expressed their disappointment. Deputy Adolf Jilek thinks it was a bad decision:

"The bill is unacceptable for us in its present form. Primarily there is no acknowledgment of the importance of the family as an institute. Because the raison d'etre of the family is not two people who love each other and wish to be together."

The fear that gay marriages would somehow undermine the traditional role of the heterosexual family couple is a frequent argument against this bill, used among others by representatives of the Catholic Church. We asked Tereza Kodickova to respond:

"Well, it depends how you define the traditional family. This bill is intended for people who would never ever enter the institution of heterosexual marriage anyway. Also, the people who enter into a same-sex marriage do so with the intention of respecting the same values as are observed in heterosexual marriages - stable, long term relationships, mutual support and so on. And also, this bill is important for the families of the couples. So in a way it actually strengthens families."

A survey by the CVVM polling agency suggests that 62 percent of Czechs approve of gay marriages, although only 18 percent of those would be in favour of allowing single sex couples to adopt children. So - if the bill is signed by the president - are we going to be seeing a lot of gay marriages in the Czech Republic? Tereza Kodickova again:

"Well, we are hoping that people will go for it, although we know that people are afraid of the consequences of coming out, but we are hoping that they will. And we know that primarily older couples who have been together for ages and ages see this as compensation for their long-term suffering under the communist regime when homosexuality was criminalized. So we do hope that there will be couples entering into registered partnerships."