March 12, 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.”