Saturday, 1 October 2011

Marriage Equality: Progress in Poland, Estonia?

When I wrote earlier this week about the EU Declaration on LGBT human rights, I referred to heavily Catholic Poland as an example of strong resistance to equality. That was an oversimplification. A Hungarian reader, Kal,  noted that
There are serious homophobic tedences not only in Poland unfortunatly. The situation is similar in all country of Central and Eastern Europe, whiche belonged to communist block previously. I wrote a short article about this topic in
Kal is correct, and his caution should be noted. however, the situation is Poland is also more nuanced than I suggested. Even without the EU declaration, there are some remarkable changes in public sentiment, as I discovered when doing some background digging follow up on a report on proposals for civil unions in Estonia.

Source: Wikipedia (Click to enlarge, and for key)

Partnership Registration for Poland?
What caught my eye was a report that the Polish government is proposing to introduce a provision for a system of registered partnerships. This is a very mild nod to marriage equality, but it does represent good progress from the virulent opposition that has prevailed. What makes this proposal viable, is a remarkable turnaround in public sentiment. While opposition to full marriage and adoption equality remains strong and stable), opposition to partnership registration has collapsed, in under a decade. The majority of Poles now support the proposal.

Polish Support for Registered Partnerships:
2002 2003 2005 2008 2010 2011
15% 34% 46% 41% 45% 54%

This is encouraging. Simple partnership registration may be only a sop to equality, but once it has been introduced, it will inevitably lead to greater visibility of queer families, reduced opposition, and in time to stronger forms of legal equality.

Civil Partnerships for Estonia?

Meanwhile in Estonia, where proposals for some form of recognition have been batted back and forth for some years, the issue is back on the table as a proposal for civil unions - and may get somewhere.In May this year,the Chancellor of Justice asked the Ministry of Justice to introduce a civil partnership law, on the grounds that the  lack of recognition for same-sex relationships is contrary to the constitution of Estonia.

In May, Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder proposed that the Ministry of Justice introduce legislation to give same-sex partnerships a legal foundation. Teder said that the current legal framework does not ensure adequate protection of the rights of de-facto cohabitation partners, and is thus contrary to the constitution. In his view, the law needs to be changed to cover areas such as property ownership and legal succession.
There are major hurdles to overcome. He will have to win over a divided coalition (as the ERR report quoted above makes clear), and public opinion is not yet with him. However, this could be an important instance where the EU Declaration could be influential and decisive in weakening political opposition.

Homophobia remains

While I welcome these small signs of progress in parts of Europe where public homophobia and opposition to LGBT equality have been strongest, I do not want to suggest that all is now well. Homophobia remains. In two other Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia, marriage discrimination is written into the constitution, as it also is in the EU countries of Moldova and Bulgaria, and also in Belarus, the Ukraine, and Serbia. In Romania, marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman in the "civil code".

In Estonia, the Dutch ambassador a few years ago asked to be reassigned to a more tolerant country, after his partner was the subject of a homophobic assault. Across much of Eastern Europe, gay pride parades remain controversial, and are often either banned by the authorities, or met with physical violence. Other than Italy, the only European states that as yet have no provision for either civil unions or full marriage equality, are in the East.

There is clearly a long way to go: but every small sign of progress should be welcomed.

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