Deputies Reject Same-Sex Civil Partnerships
March 1, 2013
Deputies have turned down three bills that would have opened the way for Poland to introduce civil partnerships, including for same-sex couples. A bill proposed by the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party was rejected by some of its own members, causing a split in the party between more progressive lawmakers and those worried that the plans were a step too far in a socially conservative, Catholic country.
Poland is one of a few EU member states, along with Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Greece, that still lacks legislation on civil partnerships. The Jan. 25 vote in the lower house of parliament was the latest of several attempts dating back to 2002 to introduce such legislation in Poland.
While right- and left-wing parties have been openly divided over the issue, the debate preceding the vote revealed cracks within the PO itself. Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin, seen as the informal leader of a conservative group within the PO, told the house that, in his opinion, all three bills—submitted by the PO, the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the socially liberal opposition Palikot Movement (RP)—were incompatible with the constitution, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Donald Tusk took the floor after Gowin to make it clear that Gowin’s statement was a personal opinion and not the official position of the government or the PO caucus. Even though Tusk called on deputies to send the legislation on for further work in committees, all three measures were rejected on their first reading. The motion to reject the first bill, submitted by the SLD, was backed by 276 deputies with 150 votes against and 23 abstentions. The second bill, tabled by the liberal Palikot Movement, also failed by a wide margin, with 283 votes favoring rejection. A motion to oppose submission of the PO bill to committees for further examination was supported by 228 deputies, with 211 against.
The defeated bills proposed that civil partnerships, both same-sex and heterosexual ones, be registered at a registrar’s office and obliged partners to support each other, maintenance payments included. Partners in civil relationships would have the right to inherit property and be informed about their partners’ health in hospital, and could refuse to testify against their partners in court.
The more comprehensive bills submitted by the Palikot Movement and the SLD also allowed for partners to file joint tax returns. None of the three bills granted adoption rights to same-sex couples.
The PO bill was believed to have stood the best chance of passage in the lower house until 46 of the PO’s own deputies voted against it. The media and political commentators describe the group as the conservative wing of the PO, as it has long objected to any work on same-sex partnerships and other socially controversial issues which, according to Gowin and the other conservatives, could threaten the moral values underpinning Polish law.
More liberal PO deputies consider such views to be dangerously close to those of right wingers who totally disapprove of civil partnerships. Krystyna Pawłowicz, a deputy from the main opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, expressed the entrenched conservative attitude best when she presented her party’s position during a heated debate preceding the vote.
“There is no point wasting time analyzing the provisions of the bills, as the very provisions defy the constitution and propose a detrimental union that challenges marriage and, in the long run, will make marriage less appealing,” Pawłowicz said. “Homosexual relationships... at best are about pointless exploitation of the other person and treating them like an object.”
According to Pawłowicz, the idea behind the proposed partnerships is “purely hedonistic and destructive to people and their partners and family members.” Pawłowicz also declared that “it is not in society’s interests to help achieve the easy and convenient fulfillment of egoistic wishes” at the expense of society and the public budget.
President Bronisław Komorowski, who has a strongly conservative background, has said he is deeply concerned by the air of “ideological war” that surrounds civil partnership bills. Komorowski has suggested problems with incompatibility with the constitution could be avoided if instead of trying to pass a new law, Poland considered changes to existing laws. Such changes, according to Komorowski, should pertain to access to medical information for partners, joint property with zero inheritance tax, maintenance payments and burial rights. “I believe that what most people expect is not an ideological dispute, but a compromise and solutions to specific problems,” said Komorowski. “I would like to call on the right wing to hold their tongue as much as possible so as not to hurt the feelings of their fellow citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.”
After liberal, left-wing and centrist deputies were spectacularly defeated in the lower house, advocates of civil partnerships announced they would soon propose new ideas. Prime Minister Tusk pledged the PO would come up with new provisions for the controversial bill as soon as possible. Surprisingly, Justice Minister Gowin said he would like to help draw up a bill as well.