One of the things that’s been stirring up controversy this side of the Alps is the new Family Code, drafted by ministers Ivan Svetlik (family and social affairs) and Aleš Zalar (justice). Family is a touchy subject in any society, doubly so in one as deeply embedded with traditional values as Slovenian. The government however, seems to have decided to take no prisoners as it proposed what is probably a more radical change than many have hoped for. For other, however, their worst nightmares are coming true.
The proposed legislation finally allows marriages between same-sex couples. As some of you know, until recently Slovenia sported a curious piece of legislation, where it allowed same-sex couples to “register” with proper authorities, whereupon they were entitled to some (but not all) rights as their heterosexual counterparts. The law, passed under Janša’s government, predictably stopped well short of allowing same-sex marriages, much to the horror of gay and lesbian community, especially after the government of Tone Rop, Janša’s predecessor already proposed a law allowing such marriages in early 2004. However, that attempt was half-hearted at best, as Rop’s government was in no hurry to pass the law, despite a nominal two-thirds majority in the parliament, as it was desperate not to alienate the centrist and even right-wing vote (a tactic that proved disastrously futile).
Fast forward five years, and the next left-wing government now proposes not only to allow same-sex marriages, but also the possibility for homosexual couples to adopt children. A progressive move, no doubt. But it must be said, however, that in this respect the legislation also a result of several important legal victories the gay and lesbian community had won in the last four years. Most notable was a decision by the Constitutional Court which declared unconstitutional some key articles of the “same-sex register” law and thus effectively said that homosexual couples in extramarital union (common law marriage) have exactly the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. This particular point was scored by journalist and gay activist Mitja Blažič and his partner. The same Mitja Blažič was also a victim of an anti-gay mob on this year’s Independence Day. Somewhat less public but still very important was a decision by one of Slovenian courts which validated an adoption of a child by a Slovenian homosexual couple, who had adopted a kid in California. According to minister Zalar, the state now had no choice but to allow adoption by same-sex couples lest it created an unlawful discrimination between those who adopt children abroad and those who cannot do that at home.
Although apparently very much controversial, the above is not the most important part of the new legislation. Pengovsky believes (and had already written to that effect) that the best, the most progressive and the most important part of it is the new definition of a family. Traditionally, a family is a union of parents or children (adoptive or otherwise). Under the new legislation, a family would be a union of two or less adults and a child/children. This of course means that adults in the union can be of same sex and still enjoy legal protection extended to families. Even more, it means that a single adult and a child can be a family even though they are not related by blood.
Why is this important? Because finally the law will allow people both to feel like a family and be a family. Imagine a situation where, through no fault of their own, an adult and a child end up in the same household and are especially close to each other. There are number of ways this can happen. Maybe the child’s mother died in a car accident and the other adult is a man she met after her divorce, but never married (not even under common law). And suddenly this man and her deceased partner’s child, although they care for each other and feel like a family, end up without any legal status.
Or, to put a more conventionally controversial example, why shouldn’t a community of two men (or two women) and a child be called a family? Families are about trust, values and safety. And if two adults of same sex can create a safe and trustworthy environment for a child, who is to say that they should be prevented from doing so? Naturally, this is a hair-raising notion for some people. Family is a union of a man, a woman and one or more children, they say. Period. It is the way it always was and the way it should be. It is the natural way. A child should have a mother and a father for a healthy development. As you can see, dilemmas are very basic. They depend mostly (but not entirely) on one’s world outlook and personal beliefs. They cut to the very core of one’s sense of right and wrong. Which is why it can get infinitely complicated.
Regardless of the legal pretexts for passing the legislation, this is an ideological question. The scope of legislation is inherently dependant on the fact that this is a left-wing government. The legislation is proposed because the government (or at least the two ministers who proposed it) believe that a new, broader, definition of a family will do more good than harm and will at the same time satisfy the constitutional provision prohibiting discrimination based on personal circumstances.
Naturally, this is also a political hot potato, which everyone is keen to fondle. Especially the right-wing parties which went head-over-heels in competing which will portray itself as the protector of the “Slovenian way of life”. Since there are no prizes for second place the competition was fierce. For starters, the aptly named weekly Družina (Family) which is considered a semi-official paper of the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church ran an editoral pointing out that “we should again think about why is it that it was until 21. century that the society was not prepared to accept homosexuality as a was of family life. Our forefathers kept alive the concept of the family as we know it and now some would like to destroy this with a stroke of a pen“.
Christian democratic Nova Slovenia (NSI), specifically its youth organisation Mlada Slovenija stated that the proposed legislation “destroys the family as the basic societal cell. The existing definition of a family is the only normal one, with a millennia of tradition, which ensures basic physical and psychological development of a child”
Centre-right Slovene People’s Party (SLS) said that it sees “allowing adoption of children by same sex couples as an infringement of a child’s right to a natural social environment. A man and a woman are at the core of a family, while a child needs a man and a woman during development, a male and a female component in upbringing”
But the top prize nevertheless went to Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) and its president Janez Janša, who said that adoption of children by same-sex couples “does not, considering some natural laws, belong in the Slovene legal system”
Now, before you start applauding or throwing monkey shit at any of the above, please note how the tone of the statements changes. The Catholic church is concerned with how behaviour, considered lewd as little as a couple of decades ago is becoming socially acceptable. This, of course has little to do with the concept of family itself, but has a lot to do with who exactly is the arbiter in social matters. The cultural influence of Christianity and specifically Catholicism in this part of the world is evident wherever you go. Socialism changed a lot of things, but the traditional concept of a family and of sexuality wasn’t one of them. In fact, it often transpired that the Party was in some way even more prudish than the Church. And this goes for all of Europe, not just Slovenia.
So, the Church is concerned with the notion of the family only insofar as it will not be the ultimate arbiter on what is acceptable as a family and what is not. This is of course reflected in NSi’s position as well, which points out the thousand-year-old definition of a family. I guess it would be useless to point out that for a long long time people had the notion of the Sun spinning around the Earth, but that turned out not to be the case.
Moving towards the centre, things start changing. SLS and SDS are not concerned with what is moral (or who decides, what is moral) but what is “normal”. This is the more primitive approach, since it does not require following one specific moral authority, but rather following the masses, whose members tend to mimic each other and thus create social mediocrity or (as they see it) “normalcy”. The problem with the notion of “natural law” is at least twofold: first, there are numerous interpretations as to what natural law really is. Pengovsky’s favourite is Hobbes’ definition, but we’ll leave that to the eye of the beholder, whereas the second caveat lies in the fact that Slovenian legal system is not based “just” on natural law, since natural law is not a purely legal but rather a philosophical category. In any case, this might be reading too much into it, since it is quite possible that Janša was just trying to say that some things are not to be changed (unless he okays them, no doubt) and that is, of course, natural.
So, what we are seeing here is an execution of a liberal agenda. First the Erased and now same sex marriages. While it is probably no coincidende that in both cases LDS ministers (Katarina Kresal and Aleš Zalar) played a part, execution of this agenda reflects on the entire government. To progressively-minded these will represent important achievements, to traditionally-minded this will be almost the end of the world. And mind you, the progressive/traditional fault does not run along the left/right fault. There are many die-hard leftist who balked at the possibility of same-sex adoptions and suddenly find themselves in the same camp with people whom they would usually avoid in the street.
This legislation has uncovered another layer of homophobia and general bigotry in Slovenia. Sentences like “you can’t be serious about faggots having kids?” are commonplace as well as savage mockery along the lines of “where are your daddy and daddy?” not to mention the usual argument that “kids with same-sex parents will be social outcasts”, convenietly forgetting that it precisely this attitude which will make them outcasts. Plus some unuttered-but-very-much-present feeling that homosexuality is somehow contagious and will spread like a disease. First on the kids and then on the society as a whole.
While pengovsky can understand the misgivings traditionalists have on the issue, the underlying prejudices and hatred are just another example of the fact that as a nation Slovenes are anything but tolerant. The most we can manage (on average) is a case of NIMBY syndrome, where we are content to be tolerant from afar. But fact of the matter is that existing family structure will in no way be endangered. It will only be complemented by other family structures, allowing more people to find happiness, safety and a stimulative environment, where they will be embraced by the state rather than shunned by it. And that everyone will have the opportunity to say “this is my family” and there will be no grounds for anyone to dispute that. Because there is one thing that all sides agree on: Everyone needs a family.