Same Love? Covid-19 Regulations Highlight Inequality Between Marriage and Registered Partnerships
New anti-Covid 19 regulations announced this week have shed light on the unequal footing of civil partnerships for LGBTQ+ couples in the Czech Republic, compared to marriage. The new measures allow weddings to continue even under the state of emergency, with a maximum of 15 guests, while registered partnership ceremonies are only permitted “if urgent”, such as in the case of the imminent death of one of the partners. Photo credit: Freepik / For illustrative purposes.
Czech Rep. Nov. 18 (BD) – Under the direction of recently-appointed Health Minister Jan Blatný, new measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic have been rolling in. This week, a new directive was announced concerning restrictions for weddings and civil partnerships ceremonies. Weddings can be held in the presence of a maximum of 15 people, while civil partnership ceremonies can only take place in cases of extreme urgency, such as the imminent death of one of the partners, or a soon to be expired residence permit
Jsme Fér, a Czech organization that has been in the front line of the fight for marriage equality since 2017, immediately called attention to the great disparity between the imposed rules, and how they discriminate against LGBTQ+ couples. Writing on social media, the organisation stated: “It’s sad, humiliating and undignified. When announcing the first regulations in the spring, the government forgot about registered partnership. They are now part of government measures, but your or your partner’s death date will determine whether you can enter an already inferior partnership. The government has again put us in a second class and called our relationships inferior.”
Interior Minister Jan Hamáček responded to public anger on Twitter, promising that the regulations will be amended as soon as possible.
However, the situation shines a light on a much larger debate about the current legal distinction between marriage and civil partnerships in the Czech Republic, and how it impacts the daily lives of LGBTQ+ couples, often resulting in discriminatory practices against them. As Adéla Horáková, lawyer for Jsme Fér, pointed out: “As long as there are two categories, registered partnership and marriage, this will continue to happen.”
The LGBTQ+ community and its allies reacted with incredulity and outrage on social media. “It’s unfair, it’s disgusting, it’s unworthy of the twenty-first century. And yet there are still so many people who will insist over and over again that “they have exactly the same rights, but it’s just called something different””, wrote Agata Hamari, one of the many social media users sharing Jsme Fer’s post, as a reminder that the inequality between heterosexual and homosexual couples goes far beyond a simple distinction in the letter of the law.
According to Jsme Fér, there are over 100 differences between marriage and registered partnership. After more than two years, the Czech Republic’s Equal Marriage Bill is still pending in the Czech parliament, despite nominal support from the government. Such a bill would make the Czech Republic the first Slavic, and first post-communist country to legalise marriage for LGBTQ+ couples, tearing down the “rainbow wall” that still stands in Eastern Europe. A map of marriage rights across Europe reveals a clear division mirroring what was once called the “iron curtain”.
There remains an arduous task for activists in the region, especially considering recent developments in neighbouring countries such as Poland, where “LGBT free” zones have been established in certain cities. The European Union has since condemned such practices, defunding the cities in question. Last week, a new ambitious project was announced by the European Commission to counter rising homophobia, the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy. However, until initiatives such as these begin to bear fruit, the struggle of LGBTQ+ couples in post-communist Europe for equality in society and in the eyes of the law is set to continue.