It is a decisive moment for homosexuals in the Czech Republic, one of the latest countries to adhere to the European Union and its commitment to equality. The Parliament in Prague has voted for a bill that recognises new rights for homosexuals, never before seen in that country. Under the new law, a registered same-sex couple could, from now on, benefit from the same health, tax and inheritance rights as a heterosexual couple. The law, however, would not provide access to adoption. This drastic change for the Czech people has the approval of Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and the Communist and Social Democratic parties.
“The president is not the third chamber in parliament”, says the Opposition.
The new law is set to make ripples in the Czech society. The president of the republic, Vaclav Klaus, added weight to the growing opposition to the bill with his veto. Those who already oppose the bill include the Christian Democrat party and groups of the extreme right. The president, founder of the right-wing party ODS (Civic Democratic Party), is not one to mince his words. He says that “this text is an attempt to legalise the destruction of traditional institutions, which built the Czech society”. He therefore vetoed the bill, meaning that it must now return to the Chamber of Deputies to eventually overturn the veto.
Nonetheless, the president’s obstructionism does not seem to have gained many followers. In fact, some in his party were quick to take their distance. Such is the case of the president of the ODS group in the European parliament, Jan Zahradil, who simply described the President’s arguments as 'wrong'. Criticism from the left is even harsher, with those who condemn the conservationism of Klaus and those who, more pragmatically, disagree with the way his decision was made. For deputy, Tana Fischerova, one of the drafters of the bill, “the president is not the third chamber in parliament”. He should stick to checking the constitutionality of the laws.
“If we were to put them all on a deserted island…”, suggests the Cardinal.
In a country where half the population is said to be atheist and a third catholic, the quarrel seems destined to last longer than expected, highlighting some deep rifts in the Czech society. The text of the bill is not much different from that of other post-communist countries, where the idea of 'secularity without communism' locks horns with religious feeling in the general public. The religious critics are intransigent, such as Cardinal Miloslav Vlk., ex-dissident in the days of the Czech communist regime. The Cardinal uses strong words to stigmatise the consequences on a widespread homosexual community: “if we were to put all the homosexuals on a deserted island, they would become extinct because they would have no way to procreate”.
In a poll carried out in October, 62% of Czechs said they would be in favour of the new law. Now, it is up to Parliament. The decision will be a painful one, but one which could transform the Czech society.