Tereza Kodickova - registered partnership matter of recognition for gays

Tereza Kodickova

Rob Cameron's guest in One on One this week is Tereza Kodickova, spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian League. On Tuesday, the lower house of parliament will meet to discuss whether to overrule President Klaus's veto of one of the most controversial acts of legislation passed by the Czech parliament since the fall of Communism. The bill on registered partnership - approved by parliament but vetoed by the president - would give gay couples many of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, and the sexually liberal Czech Republic would become the first post-Communist country in the EU to legalise gay marriage.

Tereza, a personal question to start with - when did you know you were gay?

"At the age of 24."

So it took you some time?

"Oh yeah."

Is that an experience that is shared by many gay and lesbian people do you think - that it takes them a while to discover their sexual orientation?

"I think this is the case more in women. I know it's more frequent for women to find out later."

How different is life for gay and lesbian people now in the Czech Republic and before 1989 in communist Czechoslovakia?

"Well, gay people were persecuted, so life was very difficult. It was completely impossible to be gay or lesbian publicly. Which is not the case now, but paradoxically - particularly among the older generation, or not the completely young generation rather - people still have the same fears they used to have before. So they refuse to come out, which means the community is almost equally invisible to the previous times. I think that's a pity, and when I've spoken to the people who have come out, apart from a very few exceptions, they've always said - you know, it was much less horrible than I thought. Which means that the fears people have are not grounded any longer, but they still have them."

What was it like for you, coming out?

"It was quite easy I would say. Because I was away, I was studying abroad, and I came back and things were different, and then I thought - is it worth it? Is it worth thinking all the time, did I use the right pronoun, did I cover it up sufficiently. So I just decided not to bother, and I told practically everyone. Some people disappeared from my life, most of them remained, and now being the spokesperson of the Gay and Lesbian League! Actually it's a good way of coming out because you don't need to tell anyone at all."

No explanation needed.

"Yeah, no explanation needed. So that's quite...good."

And your parents' reaction?

"Oh. That was not easy. That wasn't easy, and it wouldn't be easy still if it wasn't for the fact that now I'm actually seeing a man. So my parents are more than happy and they're hoping for me to - I don't know - get married very soon and stuff like that. But they never accepted it."

The Czech Republic seems to me a very tolerant country, especially in matters of sexuality. The Czech Republic is often described as one of the most sexually liberal countries in Europe, if not the world. Does that extend to the way the population views the gay community?

"Well the Czech population is quite lazy in being violent towards anyone."

So it's a matter of laziness is it?

"Partly. Partly because since it's a fairly secular country, we don't have the strong arguments against we know from countries where religion plays a bigger role. But usually, when you live the life, you see that the tolerance is of the kind - OK, let them do whatever, until they come into my life. If they do, I just don't want to see them, I don't want to be near them. On the other hand, this is the beginning. And if you actually manage to take the person to a café and talk to them for three hours, usually the end is - actually, hmm, you know you're quite normal!"

And has that happened to you personally, that you've managed to convince someone?

"Oh indeed. Many times. Many times. It's just a matter of knowing what to say and not taking stuff people say personally."

One person you haven't convinced is the president of this country, Vaclav Klaus, who recently vetoed legislation that would allow registered partnerships - i.e. that would allow gay people such as yourself to live almost in exactly the same way as heterosexual married couples. Where do you think the opposition really lies with him?

"As he says, his opinion is stable and long-term. So, basically, it's just - well, I have to say it - homophobia. And of course you can always find all sorts of reasons to cover the fact that you just don't like the people and that you don't want to let them live the same way as you do because you think that your life is in some way better or more useful or whatever. But the basis - and I think he doesn't even try to cover it - is that he just doesn't want it."

But he did explain it by saying that there was just not enough political support in parliament for this law, pointing out that only 86 MPs voted in favour of the bill, which is a far from overwhelming expression of support, isn't it?

"Yes, but the bill has been approved. So the parliament expressed enough support for the bill to be approved. There are other bills that have passed by one vote, so I don't quite see...again it's just a justification for his dislike of this bill."

He invited representatives of the gay community to come to the Castle and discuss the matter with him. You said no. Why?

"We didn't say no."

But the groups representing lesbians and gays refused his invitation.

"One group said no, the other - that's us - said yes. We feel that he is the president, and if we had refused he would have had yet another argument to say - they don't even want to talk to me, so why should I support them? Personal meetings always give you a chance, so we've decided to use it."

So you think that given the opportunity of sitting down with him face to face that you'll be able to persuade him?

"Not that probably. But my experience as the spokesperson is that when the people see you and they have the opportunity to talk to you, something changes for them."

Opponents of the bill have pointed out that the point of marriage is to raise children, so why give this right to gay couples. How would you answer that criticism?

"The Family Act says the main cause for marriage is to raise children. There are also many other justifications for marriage, such as mutual economic, social, psychological support that people give to each other. That's one thing. There are many childless marriages and they have not been cancelled because there haven't been any children. The other thing is that many gay couples do raise children, be it from previous marriages or from the current relationship they live in. So this argument doesn't work either. I also know that there are people who have been through the Communist times and they see this as the country saying - OK, we now take you as fully-fledged citizens and we do accept you for this."

So for many gay couples it's about recognition.