On Tuesday evening the parliament completed the second (crucial) reading of the new Family Code which – among other things – was meant to allow same-sex weddings and child adoptions. Pengovsky covered the issue at some lenght including the compromise solution proposed by the govenrment which watered down some of the more controversial points of the new legislation.
As both readers of this blog know, the new code was far from unequivocally supported. Indeed, the split did not occur along the left-right fault but rather along the division between traditionalists and progressives, where the former seem to be enjoying an advantage in numbers or at the very least in audiability. To put it blunty, the political right opposes the new legislation vigorously and with gusto, while the left is divided between progressives who try to argue their case and traditionalists who support the law with noticeable lacklustre and would be just happy if the whole thing never happened.
It was partly because of this that the government sort of backed down on same-sex marriage and adoptions. Under the compromise solution gay and lesbian couples would not be able to enter wedlock but a partnership with the same legal consequences as marriage (including inheritance, which is a noticeable difference from the current law passed by previous government of Janez Janša). Furthermore, same-sex couples would only be allowed to adopt a child if one of the partners would be the child’s biological parent.
Compromise? Think again…
Hadn’t it been for the lukewarmness on the left, compromise would be utterly unnecessary as the right-wing opposition is fighting tooth and nail to defeat the code utterly and completely. Their cause is defended by a supposed grass-roots campaign headed by former SLS member Aleš Primc, who years ago led the campaign to ban medical fertilization of single women and succeeded (a refefrendum was called and the ‘no’ campaign won). Primc, following the shiny example of the NRA is using every possible means to draw attention and present himself as the ultimate defender of life, ‘natural laws’ and all things Slovene, to the extent of recently demanding that evolution and creationism be taught in schools side by side as ‘competing theories on the origin of maniknd’.
So, what we are dealing with here is in fact not a policy disagreement, but an ideological question of – broadly speaking – permissive libertarianism versus staunch religious reactionarism. The two are obviously mutually exclusive, so it is no wonder that Primc rejected the compromise solution as a trick, allowing for same sex marriage and adoption some time later on. And, to an extent, he’s probably correct. The thing is that he and the political parties behind him (SLS, SDS and NSi) will be satisfied with nothing else than a complete withdrawal of the new Family Code and then some, if possible.
Welcome to the twilight zone
The ‘then some’ moment occured, of course. Not just with the aforementioned attempt to introduce creationism to schools. That was, pengovsky suspects, just a target of opportunity. What happened on Tuesday evening when the parliament was voting on ammendments to the Code was much more bizzare.
In what was probably a momentary loss of attentiveness by the coalition, the parliament adopted an amendment by Janez Janša’s SDS stipulating that all unmarried couples, save those who already have a child, should register their union with the proper authorities if they want to claim benefits stemming from such a union.
For the uninitiated: Ever since 1976 civil union was instituted (the linked Wikipedia article is wrong, btw) married and unmarried heterosexual couples in Slovenia enjoy the same benefits, mostly in terms of inheritance, social security, child care and so on. It does not matter if the couple is married or has formalised the union in some other way, if at all. The amendment overturns more than thirty-five years of established practice which was since followed by many a country all across Europe and is recognised by a plethora of other Slovene legislation.
Now, some people know of or have experienced situations where a compulsory registration of a civil union would solve or even prevent many problems such as impostors claiming to have been long-time partners of a deceased family member or similar. However, what it at stake here is the inherent right of an individual to live the way he or she chooses without being disenfranchised vis-a-vis the state. Or – if you want to look at it the other way – the state has no business prescribing the preferred form of a union between two individuals.
The amendment is a very telling representation of just how deeply ideological this debate is. On one hand we have a drive to expand the definition of a family and with it the circle of those who would benefit from that, regardless of the way, shape or form of the union, regardless of whether the union produced an offspring (biologically or otherwise) and – most importantly – regardless of the sex of people entering such union.
On the other hand we have a drive to curb the existing scope of the acceptable: an exclusively heterosexual union where the partners will be left alone and eligible for benefits only if they produce an offspring, otherwise they have to declare their union to the state. This in fact shouldn’t come as a surprise, since this is exactly what the government of Janez Janša did to homosexual couples, forcing them to “register” their union with the authorities but refusing to allow marriage. And this is the crux of it all. The right wing’s inherent drive is to reinstitute marriage of a man and a woman as the only allowed form of a union between two individuals. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how the Roman Catholic church is itching to chip in the “before God, until death do you part” as a compulsory part of a marriage ceremony.
Hold on to your hats
Luckily not all is lost. Tuesday’s fiasco seems to have happened more or less by mistake. At the very least, this is what president of the Parliament Pavle Gantar claimed in his tweet (protected, unfortunately) this morning when he said that DeSUS MPs got a bit disoriented for a moment and voted in favour of the amendment instead of against.
Parliamentary rules and procedures allow for amendments originally introduced in the second reading to be re-amended in the third (and final) reading and apparently this is what is going to happen. Mind you, things will probably not go smoothly. First of all, the Liberal Democrats of Katarina Kresal, the most ardent supporters of the new Family Code are saying that they will not support the compromise solution, but demand that the original version of the Code be passed.
While one can understand the sentiment, this will probably not be possible, because it would mean scrapping the whole second reading and most likely make the traditionalists on the left very nervous, perhaps to the point of withdrawing their support of the new legislation. And secondly, even when (and if) the Code is passed, this does not mean the end of the road. What will most likely happen is yet another referendum bid.
tractor referendum (click if you don’t get it)
Aleš Primc said time and again that he will go all the way in trying to defeat the Code. SLS said about as much the other day when they hinted at the possibility of calling a referendum on the issue. And with this the Constitutional Court once again steps onto the stage front and centre. The coalition will most likely argue that having a referendum on human rights of minorities (in this case gays and lesbians) is unconstitutional as their rights are not subject to popular vote but inherently exist. Furthermore, the new Code does not limit existing rights to any group of citizens, but only increases the scope of population eligible for existing rights (or introduces new rights, whichever you please).
On the other hand, the right wing – with Primc as the probable primary plaintiff – will most likely argue that the the people have the right to decide what kind of a society they want to live in and that – if anything – this is exactly the issue one can and indeed must have a referendum on the issue.
The thing is that no one knows for sure what the court will decide. On one hand it seems logical that there can not be a referendum on human rights, especially rights of an defined minority within the society. However, things are not that simple. Recently, the court made it a principle to deny only those referendums which could result in a continuation of an unconstitutional state. Hence, a pre-existing and established unconstitutional situation must exist for the court to deny a referendum on a law addressing the issue. Which is sadly not the case here. This is not to say that a referendum on Family Code will be granted, but that the coalition faces yet another uphill battle and that the court’s decision – no matter the outcome – will be a landmark one, defining the issue of “acceptable” family for years or even decades to come.