Region: Parliament scraps civil partnership recognition
Liberal legislation proposed, clashes with staunchly Catholic currents
Posted: February 6, 2013
People hold a giant rainbow flag as they take part in a gay pride parade in Warsaw June 2, 2012. Even though civic rights groups had been doubtful that the Jan. 25 vote in Parliament to recognize same-sex unions - the first discussion of its kind in Polish government - would be successful, the vehemence of the ensuing debate took many by surprise.
A discussion of the legal recognition of unmarried same-sex and heterosexual couples flared up in the Polish media after the lower house threw out all drafts on civil unions.
Gay rights organizations have been demanding the regulation of their legal status since 2003, and the issue has been a subject of mainstream political discourse since 2007, when the current ruling Civic Platform (PO) won elections for the first time, due in part to broad support from young, liberal voters.
The lack of proper legislation was also noted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which last year rebuked Poland for possible discrimination in its Universal Periodic Review. Despite its electoral promise to address the issue in its second term, the PO has failed to push the legal recognition of civil partnerships through the lower house, with MPs overwhelmingly voting to throw out the bill during its first reading. The Jan. 25 vote confirmed an inconvenient split within the ruling party, which must parry between its liberal voter base and its conservative wing, informally controlled by Justice Minister Jaroslaw Gowin.
Prior to the vote, Prime Minister Donald Tusk called on MPs to "not close their eyes to an existing, real social fact" and "not use harmful arguments against people who decide to live this kind of life"- an appeal that ultimately proved insufficient. The proposition was struck down by 228 votes, including 46 from PO and all present members of the centrist Polish People's Party (PSL), a Christian Democratic member of the governing coalition. Later, the Polish Episcopate sent a letter of gratitude to the parliamentarians who opposed the bill.
The legislation was originally proposed in three versions. The strictest version, proposed by PO, would have given unmarried couples, regardless of gender, the ability to inherit property, access medical information concerning a partner and handle funerary affairs. In addition, the bill would have imposed alimony obligation. Two left-wing opposition parties, the authors of other drafts, proposed additional rights like tax breaks or nursing allowance.
Though none of the propositions touched upon more sensitive issues such as same-sex marriage or adoption rights, the debate among MPs was rife with emotion.
"This is a historic moment. We have never before had a chance to discuss social unions in this chamber. Let's not waste it," appealed Robert Biedron, the only openly gay MP. The discussion turned aggressive after the rostrum was taken by conservative parliamentarians.
"Why do you want to legalize the moral downfall of society and endanger family values?" asked MP Artur Górski from the Law and Justice Party (PiS).
"The phenomenon of same-sex unions goes against nature. Society should not have to indulge people in short-lived, childless unions that it has no use for, simply because of their sexual orientation," said Krystyna Pawłowicz, the most controversial speaker of the debate. Her quotes went viral, quickly eliciting thousands of comments in the media and on social networks.
Marcin Szczepkowski, spokesman for the Love Does Not Exclude Group, an initiative that lobbies for same-sex couples' rights, emphasizes that even though gay activists were aware the proposal was likely to be rejected, the vehemence of the debate surpassed their expectations.
"Paradoxically, the style of this particular discussion has in a way helped the cause for civil unions. Many people felt touched, and many were disgusted by its extremity," he said, alluding to an ongoing public discussion concerning this long-ignored subject.
In the wake of the vote, local newspapers published letters from offended readers. Supporting gay unions, heterosexual married couples started an online initiative called "Civil unions are not a threat for us," where they post family pictures with a caption proving their support for the bill.
However, Jan. 30, the independent agency INSE Research conducted a poll for the radio station TOK FM, which showed that those who support the bill represent a minor portion of society. According to the results, 70 percent of Poles are against the legal regulations of civil unions.
"Poles are very conservative. The impact of the Catholic Church is still significant. Even though social awareness is progressing, there is still a lack of proper education to fight stereotypes," commented Yga Kostrzewa from the nongovernmental Lambda Warszawa organization, which supports civil unions. "This subject is constantly postponed, even though in reality around 20 percent of children have [guardians with] informal relationships. Ideological matters are always difficult to force through."
Parliamentarians in favor of the change have pledged to revisit the issue. Less than a week after the vote, two left-wing parties introduced new draft bills. The PO is also back to work on the project, prompted by critique from its young and liberal supporters.
In the European Union, 16 out of 27 countries have adopted legislation regulating civil partnerships.
Karolina Drogowska can be reached at