Today the Czech government decided to support a draft law proposing to introduce same-sex marriage in the post-communist republic. According to several activists this is a huge step forward. If the bill gets approved, Czechia will be the first country to introduce same-sex marriage from the former Eastern bloc.
Czeslaw Walek is the leader of the Czech Marriage Equality Campaign and the organiser of the Prague Pride. He’s been the face of the LGBT+ movement in Czechia for years. Rémy Bonny had an exclusive with him. (Excerpting parts of this interview can only by following the conditions as stated below)
What particular actions led to this draft law?
The actual start of the campaign was in April 2017, but the preparations already started in 2016. It was a public awareness campaign to convince Czech people that gay and lesbian people should be able to marry. Most of the Czechs are used to the tradition of a mixed-sex marriage. Therefore we approached the campaign as a conversation with society.
The campaign also included a pre-election campaign. We encouraged the LGBT+ community to vote only for pro same-sex marriage candidates. We also conducted a petition. Not an online one, because these are not considered as official in Czechia. We were able to collect 70.000 signatures in half a year. Which is a huge number for a small country like Czechia.
Why do you strive for marriage equality?
For us, marriage equality is not just a symbolic issue. In Czechia there is a huge legal division between civil union and marriage.
What’s going to be the time span between the draft, the voting and the implementation?
Off course, we hope to make it a very short parliamentary process. But we have to acknowledge that a lot of MPs in our parliament are going to fight the draft. It could be one year, but it also could be several years.
Did you expect this government to come up with such a draft law?
The bill was introduced 2 weeks ago by 46 members of parliament. The biggest support came from the Pirate party, but also conservatives, social democrats and liberals are involved in the draft law.
But two days after, 46 conservative MPs introduced a contra-bill. The acceptance of this draft would introduce a definition of marriage solely between a man and woman.
In our parliamentary system, for every draft bill the government needs to provide an opinion. So that is what happened today. Today’s support by the government was a big support for us.
We can speculate if the current government is populist or not, but in general the ANO party has a big history of supporting the LGBT+ community. In the previous parliament, ANO was the only party that supported the amendment to the law for registered partnership. So I’m not surprised that this government is pro-LGBT.
Is the Czech society ready for marriage equality?
Yes. The Czech society is ready for same-sex marriage. Last March there was an opinion poll and that poll showed that 75% of the Czech society wants more rights for LGBT+ people. For the direct question on same-sex marriage, 69% said yes. That’s more than in the USA. And they already have marriage equality since 2015.
Do you see other Central Eastern European countries following the Czech example soon?
We hope we’ll start a “snowball”. But you have to keep in mind that there are two factors in comparison with other Central Eastern European countries that are favourable for us. Czechia is not as religious as for instance Poland and Slovakia. The other factor is that we already have registered partnerships between same-sex couples for 11 years. So the Czech society is somehow used to unions between people from the same sex.
It’s a very complex debate. Hungary for instance has civil union since 2008. But at the other hand they have a constitutional ban on marriage between people of the same sex.
Definitely it will shift things in Slovenia. Because they already have registered partnerships with full rights (except adoption).
Are you going to have a party tonight?
We are going to celebrate tonight off course! But Tomorrow we all need to come together again and start thinking about our next steps.
I call all LGBT+ fellows across Europe to come the the Prague Pride to celebrate with us. The Pride Week is between 6 and 12 August.