Same-Sex Life Partnership – A Step Forward In Croatian Democracy

Croatian Parliament votes on same sex life partnership law Photo: Cropix

Croatian Parliament votes on
same-sex life partnership law
Photo: Cropix


Homophobia was the social norm in communist Yugoslavia


The significant levels of homophobia that regrettably still exist in Croatia (as it does in other countries) are not solely the product of Catholic indoctrination over the years as many, including the current communist-nostalgic government, would like to claim but rather the product of complex historical circumstances in which harsh opposition to gay sexual orientation had also been a communist party driven oppressive social norm for more than half of the communist Yugoslavia’s existence. While one can come across many media articles and reporting that tend to spin the politically coloured story that Croatia’s government officials recently challenged the Catholic Church opposition to gay marriage and passed the “life partnership” law to create greater rights for same-sex unions, the truth on the ground is evidently far more complex than that.

Same-sex sexual activity was illegal in Croatia/all of the communist Yugoslavia between 1951 and 1977 and the Catholic Church had nothing to do with these laws. The 26 years of such oppression of gay people by the communist regime has undoubtedly made significant inroads into the psyche of a largely Catholic (Christian) society whose religion had no tolerance for homosexuality in the first place. The communists did not accept the Church, did not attend the church, were not and are not “believers” and yet, when it came to homosexuality, they acted the same and even worse than the Church itself (for the Church had no powers to pass legislation). The communists poisoned a whole generation – the parents and grandparents of today’s young – against homosexuality. And while the current left and centre-left government and citizens’ associations supporting them point the finger against the Croatian Catholic Church as being discriminatory against the gay population the fact is that vast numbers of citizens in Croatia who do not practice religion, but were poisoned by communist laws and social norms, were also among those who voted in the referendum of 2013, which amended the Constitution to define marriage as a union exclusively ”between a man and woman”, thus preventing same-sex marriages from being legalized even in the future.

Anti-discrimination legislation reflecting the democratic course Croatia had embarked on with its secession from Yugoslavia movement in the early 1990’s had been passed from the very beginning and amended as democracy gradually made its stronger steps into everyday life. Discrimination based on sexual orientation has been banned in Croatia since 2003. Additionally, in January 2013, a new Penal Code was introduced, protecting against hate crimes related to gender identity.



A step forward for democracy

On Tuesday 15 July Croatia joined the large number of European countries that recognise civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Thus making another step forward towards equality of homosexual citizens with the rest, albeit not complete equality because gay people desire marriage just as much as non-gay people do.

A civil partnership law was passed by the Croatian parliament, recognising same-sex unions and granting them the same rights as those in traditional/heterosexual marriages with the exception of the right to adopt children. It’s reported that this law in Croatia has been drafted along the lines of its German counterpart, with 89 votes in favour mostly from centre-left and liberal parties in the government coalition. Voting against the measure were 16 right-wing and centre-right parties, which are not against the recognition of same-sex couples but object that the law is too liberal. Furthermore, the Catholic Church and the conservative citizens’ association who work towards protecting the “traditional family values” have expressed their opposition to the law, but as such matters also stand everywhere else in the world this opposition is not crucial in the passing of legislation.

One of the complications, which the community had faced since 2013 “family” referendum, was a Constitutional requirement that the State ‘protect the family’. Lawmakers got around that problem by defining life partnerships to be a form of family life.

Gay and lesbian couples in Croatia will thus from August 2014 enjoy all the same rights and duties as married couples, such as inheritance rights, social benefits and tax deductions. Their unions will be called ”life partnerships” and not ”marriage”, but are defined as a form of family and as such protected by the Constitution. The official ceremonies will be held in town councils/ local Registries. Despite not including the right to adopt, which is disappointing just as it is disappointing for the other European countries with similar life partnership laws, Croatia has made progress in the area of same-sex couples’ rights under the law. Although adoption of children by same-sex couples is not permitted under this or any other law in Croatia the law nevertheless recognises the fact that there are same-sex partnerships where children do exist. And so, if a child does not have a second, officially recognised parent – or their other parent is dead – the same-sex partner of their biological parent will be able to become the legal guardian of the child, if they live with the couple. If the second biological parent is known and alive, then the partner of the homosexual parent will have the rights granted to stepparents. Decisions of this nature will be the matter for the Courts to rule on.

The gay community in Croatia has hailed the new life partnership legislation with strong applauses all around. And why wouldn’t they! Non-gay community should also applaud this legislative move and many of its members surely have. It’s a matter of human rights practices as translated through a life of democracy. After all, almost all gay people in Croatia are a part of and stem from traditional families; they are someone’s sons, daughters, brother, sisters, parents, grandparents…The life partnership legislation is also surely to contribute to a decrease and eventual minimisation of homophobia that exists in Croatia, as it does elsewhere and, hence a greater acceptance of gay people as a part that contributes valuably to the general society. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Sparks Fly As Referendum Bans Same Sex Marriage

Celebrations for Croatia's referendum on  constitutional definition of marriage  Photo: Aljazeera

Celebrations for Croatia’s referendum on
constitutional definition of marriage
Photo: Aljazeera

The issue of same sex marriage has been hot and deeply divisive throughout the world for quite some time. Some countries have managed to win the day, as it were, and declare same sex marriages legal. But all have had to deal with allowing social conscience on the issue to develop or to face itself in this war between traditional upbringing and modern demands of free society.  Some countries are still struggling to come to terms with the demands of modern society of freedoms, including gay marriages, and this does not make them bad countries nor rife with homophobia. All persons have a right to their beliefs and no person has the right to point a damning finger at anyone who has a different belief (unless, of course, a belief entails the right to commit crimes…).

While some of the world’s media, politicians, sociologists, academics…ordinary people may be (and some already are) tempted to portray Croatian people and its predominantly Roman Catholic church as homophobes because they just voted against same-sex marriage, many will pay humanly due note and thought and consideration similar to the contents of just-released Pilling Report (Church of England) in the UK, which in its recommendations on Page 150 says:

No one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships.”

Regardless of anyone’s opinion on the issue of gay-marriage, a certain history was made in Croatia yesterday, on December 1, 2013. Referendum was held on the question: “Are you for the inclusion into the Constitution the provision that marriage is a union between a man and a woman?” Voters were to circle either “Yes” or “No”. The discussion on the referendum had bitterly divided Croatia, many pressure groups were formed on both sides of the debate, the government became a pressure group for “No” vote, the referendum was labelled as “fascism in action” by several journalists and public figures, threats were made to individuals who stood behind the referendum organising citizens’ group “In the name of the family” … a great deal of horrible name-calling and accusations happened, so horrible and utterly unjustified were some that I choose not to repeat them here.

In all this it is most important to keep in mind that Croatian society is still deeply divided when it comes to practicing or being formed by Christianity or religious teaching as multitudes of former communists hold high public positions or socially important jobs and they would be the last caste on earth to pause and consider non-judgmentally the mindset of those who are brought up to believe in Christian teaching that comes and came to them via the church. UK, or other countries where communism never ruled would not have that problem to the same degree even though many there are disbelievers or non-believers.

On Sunday 1 December, Croats voted overwhelmingly in favour of defining marriage in the constitution as a “union of a man and a woman”.  Almost 66% voted in favour of this and almost 34% against. The turnout was 37.84% of those eligible to vote in Croatia.

Such as weak turnout could mean that majority of Croatian voters are either not interested in the issue or are still examining their conscience regarding the matter, or both. But, the voter turnout for EU membership referendum in January 2012 was also relatively dismal and that did not stop Croatia from becoming EU member state – such is Croatia’s law on referendums (a handful of voters can turn up and the results are valid!).

So, this practically means that, for now, Croatian Constitution will be amended to ban gay marriage.

But, it also means that a convincing majority in Croatia is obviously not afraid of Sodom and Gomorrah, after all, despite the fact that they’ve been intimidated with it by the media, politicians and numerous opinion-makers for the “vote for” camp.

It also means that a convincing majority in Croatia are not “stuporous”, “human rights deniers”, “Nazis”, “Fascists” as the “vote against” aggressive camp, including government ministers, had labelled those who would vote for the change to the Constitution.

This pathetic mud-slinging, anger, portrayals of people continue as the referendum has well and truly closed.  Temperaments run high, sparks of defamation fly almost everywhere one looks. While president Ivo Josipovic reacted to the referendum result by articulating his hopes that they will not continue dividing the nation, in the same breath he states: “the results are very disappointing although not surprising!”

I do so wish Jopsipovic would keep his mouth closed on the issue since he evidently does not know how to mend divisions among people in sensitive and respect-all ways. When it comes to democratic voting nothing is disappointing to a nation, it is merely the picture of the sum of democratic, individual, thought.

In my previous post on the issue of this referendum I was most concerned about the government’s interference and pressure – such strategies can backfire terribly and I believe the government has done more damage than good here.

In fact the government’s interference had poured tonnes of fuel into what turned out to be campaign and opinion anarchy that often witnessed atrocious trampling on human rights (of both or either side) and human dignity.

Croats vote in referendum on marriage 1 December 2013   Photo: Stole Lasic

Croats vote in referendum on marriage
1 December 2013 Photo: Stole Lasic

It is done!

Voters who voted in the referendum are not representative in number of the Croatian nation by a fairly long stretch. Had the government and politicians steered out from pre-referendum public debates and hot-air, or at least not have been so hatefully oppressive, the likelihood is that voter turnout would have been much higher. And, gay right to marriage would not have been discriminated against, even if the apparent discrimination may not have been, or was not the focus for voting “Yes” or purposefully pursued. After all, this is the 21st Century and civil and democratic societies recognise and acknowledge the fact that we are all equal when it comes to access to fundamental social forms of life such as marriage is.

It is now the responsibility of the governing politics to sort out legally as soon as possible the rights of same-sex community that have been withheld from it, keeping in mind that the European Human Rights court and the Croatian Constitutional court protect its family life. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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