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Polish parliament gay union debate is at risk

Melanie Nathan issues a call to action for the world to help Polish LGBT community by signing Avaaz Petition
Anna Grodzka (right), a Polish transgender MP, is pushing for civil partnership in Poland.

Since the 1989 fall of communism, the Polish LGBT community has been pushing for civil unions, a form of equality they deem possible. However, not until now has there been a real opportunity for same-sex unions to be discussed in the Polish parliament and that may happen in the next few days. Yet activists fear that a motion by a speaker in parliament may kill their chances.

As it stands, Poland does not recognize same-sex unions, and this deprivation of rights and obligations, enjoyed by heterosexual couples through marriage, causes much hardship.

The road to civil partnership commenced in 2003 when Senator Maria Szyszkowska proposed it in the Polish Senate. The motion was carried by the senate and finally reached parliament in January 2005. Unfortunately, parliament decided not to pursue the proposal, probably because of an upcoming election, later that year. Then in 2011 the civil partnership proposal was directed to the Constitutional Commission, where it languished without result.

Now, according to activists, for the first time in Polish history, the civil partnership law might actually make it to parliament for discussion and perhaps even a vote.

Article 18 in the Polish constitution prevents marriage equality for same-sex couples. Although that may be subject to interpretation, same-sex marriage is not an option that can be pursued, because according to community consensus, there is absolutely no political climate to change the Polish constitution which has been in effect in its current form since 1997.

The only way activists believe they can succeed in having their relationships recognized is through the civil partnership legislation, which they do not consider an alternative to marriage equality for same-sex couples, but rather an equal opportunity for an alternative to marriage, for all couples, whether same-sex or different gender. The idea is that such would be akin to civil unions between any two people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender marker status.

Mariusz Kurc, chief editor of Replika, Poland's only LGBT magazine: ‘In the present law system in Poland, same-sex couples have no rights whatsoever. Same sex couples, who have been living together for as many as 40 years, are strangers in the eyes of the Polish law.’

There are two legal proposals before parliament and their fate will be decided next week, on Tuesday (24 July). Both of those proposals are inclusive and do not restrict the genders of the people seeking to have their partnership registered.

The first one is loosely based on the French PACS and the second one introduces the institution of a civil partnership into the Polish judicial system.

Both of the proposals focus on the needs of couples and clarify the legal relations between two people. They deal with inheritance issues, permit partners to be informed on medical issues, and provide the right to refuse to testify to incriminate a partner.

However neither project tackles any of the family law issues which would be covered by the laws pertaining to marriage. There is nothing to deal with parenting, adoption, second-parent nothing, or assisted reproduction issues.

Nonetheless the activists are determined to move the legislation forward as an opportunity to have Poland recognize their unions.

On Tuesday morning parliament will vote as to whether it will keep the proposed order for the session. One of the speakers of parliament has filed motions to erase both civil partnership proposals from the agenda. If the motion passes, the proposals will not be discussed during next week - they would be put ‘in the freezer’. They could either return to the agenda in September, or they could stay ‘in the freezer’ forever.

If the motion of the speaker does not pass, the first reading of the proposals will take place, which would be a great victory for LGBT couples in Poland.

Anna Grodzka, a member of Parliament, representing the The Palikot Movement, is the proponent of a petition on Avaaz.org, which is currently promoting the civil partnership legislation. She is the third transgender member of parliament in the world, currently the only standing transgender member of any parliament. She will present the results of the petition to Polish parliament on Tuesday. Activists are urging as many signatures as possible until then.

The petition urges Parliament to vote to ‘keep the agenda’ which means the proposals will be ‘read and can be discussed and can be voted upon,’ noted Pamela Wells, a activist who currently resides in Poland.

After the proposals are read out loud in parliament, motions can be proposed. Those motions might be for rejecting the proposals, directing them to the commission for further work or for accepting the proposals in their current version.

It is highly doubtful that the proposal will be accepted without any revisions; therefore the community anxiously awaits the decision for further work on the law or for a rejection of both of the proposals.

‘Polish law-makers need to realize that the international community is keeping an eye on them, and that a civil partnership law is not some “second-class issue of no importance” in the Polish context. This is why the petition is so important,’ says Wells.

Wells also notes that on Tuesday (24 July) there will be a demonstration in front of parliament and activists, members of the new Coalition for Civil Partnership, which consists of NGOs, initiatives and individuals, will be present for the entire day, on the balcony in the session room, ‘to ensure that the MPs realize that we are watching.’

Now perhaps with the petition gaining momentum, they will realize the entire world is watching too.

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