By Dave Stancel
On June 5, 2014, the National Council of the Slovak Republic passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a “unique bond between a man and a woman,” to international outcry. Western leaders rightfully condemned the country’s government for the dramatic, backwards step on gay rights, an outlier to the remarkable progress Slovakia has made in the decades since its independence from Soviet influence.
However, what the Western media has largely ignored is the backroom politics that plagued the amendment’s surprising pass.
Slovakia’s ban on same-sex marriage shows how politicians betray principles to get ahead
I have witnessed my country’s LGBTQ community stripped of their fundamental right to marriage because of petty partisan politics that do not reflect the political opinions of many of my fellow citizens and their elected officials. Indeed, the amendment’s passage was a shock to many Slovakians because the majority party that led the effort, the Social Democrats (SMER), is the country’s “progressive” force.
In fact, this party is even a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament — a coalition that explicitly supports same-sex unions. So why would the Social Democrats betray their allies in Europe? The answer is, unsurprisingly, dirty politics.
Robert Fico, Slovakia’s Prime Minister at the time, announced his support for the initiative a couple of weeks before his failed presidential campaign. According to many, the timing of the amendment’s introduction in parliament was not a coincidence, but rather a deliberate effort by Fico to broaden his appeal to conservative voters. Moreover, the amendment may be part of a larger power play by the Social Democrats to solidify their influence over multiple branches of government.
Indeed, the measure was a result of an unholy alliance between the majority party and the more conservative Christian Democrats. The Social Democrats promised to defect from the Progressive Alliance’s pro-gay stance in return for a favor from the Christian Democrats.
This favor meant that the Christian Democrats would support the Social Democrats’ proposed judicial reforms for the Constitutional Court, which would divide the power to appoint justices between the parliament, president, and government, while removing judges’ immunity to prosecution.
As a result of this backroom deal, both the same-sex marriage ban and judicial reforms were approved by large majorities. In fact, Slovakia’s ban on same-sex marriage received the support of 102 MPs out of a total of 150. This constitutional amendment has remained in place ever since.
Political factions joined forces at the expense of LGBTQ people
Amnesty International reported (in Slovak) that this deal was struck secretly by the two parties’ leadership without open debate among their MPs. Moreover, MPs from other political parties were reportedly handed copies of the amendment just hours before it reached the committee stage.
Many gay activists pointed out Article I of the country’s constitution establishes the Slovak Republic as a “sovereign democratic state based on rule of law” and “not bound to any ideology or religion.” The amendment, according to the activists, was thereby unconstitutional since it morally condemns LGBTQ individuals’ so-called “disordered relationships or partnerships” based on a normative moral belief.
After all, not all religions condemn same-sex relationships. Thus, Slovakia’s ban on same-sex marriage would constitute the state’s endorsement of some moral beliefs over others.
Romana Schlesinge of the Queer Leaders Forum stated “it’s one of the most anti-social, anti-democratic, and anti-Christian things that could have happened.” It was a true perversion of the so-called beliefs of legal equality that both the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats claim to hold.
Activists also pointed to the amendment’s potential negative economic impact through an exodus of Slovakia’s LGBTQ community. Given that Slovakia is in the European Union, disenfranchised gay people could easily have moved to another member state with few immigration barriers.
The Czech Republic recognizes same-sex civil unions and is very close to legalizing same-sex marriage, considering Slovakia’s historical ties with its northwestern neighbor, is therefore a land of refuge. Considering the great strides Slovakia has made towards liberalization over the past several decades, this amendment was a major step in the wrong direction.
It is ludicrous for any Slovakian to think that the voluntary union of two same-sex individuals poses a threat to so-called traditional marriage, especially in an era when churches are becoming more tolerant towards LGBTQ people. But, what is more ludicrous and downright insulting is the fact that Slovakian politicians would threaten same-sex couples’ loving relationships because of backroom deals and dirty politics.
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Updated by Joseph Simnett
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