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Battle for same-sex unions in Serbia continues

May 26th, 2021
topic: LGBT Rights
by: Katarina Panić
located in: Serbia
tags: LGBTQI, Pride March, same sex marriage, Serbia

Up until 1994, homosexuality in Serbia was considered a criminal offence. If you were a man, you could end up in jail for one year. If you were lesbian woman, it counted as a misdemeanour only. The country entered the new millennium as one of the most homophobic countries in Europe with the bloody aftermath of Belgrade's first gay pride march in 2001.

Yet, as early as 2017, Serbia got its first openly lesbian prime minister. Two years later, Ana Brnabić became the first head of the government to have a child with a same-sex partner while in office. One might think the country had turned into the most gay-friendly destinations, but the reality is far away from it. Same-sex partnerships remain elusive, all the more so when it comes to marriages or child adoption.

"Our country with our lesbian prime minister is the textbook example of pinkwashing," one activist from Serbia said under the condition of anonymity. Their colleagues in Bosnia face the same problems, while neighbouring Croatia and Montenegro adopted similar laws, following the European Union recommendation.

"I'm not a fan of marriage as an institution, but I'm interested in having the right to choose. If they [hetero couples] have the right of choice, and I do not, how could I ever feel comfortable? It is important to have the right to choose whether or not to form a community with a partner regardless of whether we agree with the current definitions of marriage, family and family values,” Branko Ćulibrk, an LGBTQI activist from Bosnia, told FairPlanet. 

NO MARRIAGE or CHILD ADOPTION permitted FOR Same-sex couples in Serbia

Though suspicious due to the broken promises they received over the last 15 years, the community welcomed the announcement delivered last November by Serbia's newly-appointed minister of human rights and social dialogue, Gordana Čomić, who plans to adopt all missing legislation, including laws on gender equality, same-sex unions and non-discrimination.

"All three proposed laws are unconstitutional, contrary to common sense and directed against the will of the majority of citizens, tradition and identity," the Coalition for the Natural Family claims. And they are not the only ones who believe so. 

The public debate about the drafted law on same-sex partnerships took place in February; an evaluation followed and now it is submitted to the Council of Europe for advisory expertise. It is expected to be discussed in parliament by the summer.

The law does not imply marriage nor child adoption, but issues such as the right to visit a partner in the hospital, the health insurance through a partner and inheritance of real estate or pension after death. However, it seems that those who oppose it deliberately use populist rhetoric, claiming the law endangers the traditional family. 

OPPONENTS of the law DELIBERATELY SPREAD MISINFORMATION 

The most vigorous opposition comes from the Serbian Orthodox Church, which claims that the drafted law has caused great concern, that it is unacceptable and that “it is inadmissible to equalise same-sex unions with marriage and family.”

"The vast majority of the proposed provisions are contrary to the Gospel of Christ and the overall experience and practice of the Church on which Serbian people, as well as the entire European civilisation, are spiritually and morally based,” the church stated in a press release after it submitted its complaints to the government.   

A signature battle between public figures who either support or oppose the legislation also took place. More than 200 right wing public figures believe the existing laws on specific issues should be amended, and by no means should a new law be enacted, claiming that it is a step towards marriage and child adoption. 

They called on the government to prevent the law from passing and appealed to the public and the traditional religious communities to "react to defend the right to freedom and the future of the nation.” The right-wing politicians called for a referendum, intentionally manipulating the public since they know the constitution does not allow having a referendum on human and minority rights. Human rights activists very quickly collected 1,600 signatures of support.

POPULISM AT ITS BEST

A bit of confusion came from populist president Aleksandar Vučić, whose conservative Progressive Party has had absolute power for a decade, when he said he would veto the law

"The Constitution refers to the Family Law, which defines marriage as a legally regulated union of a man and a woman. Therefore, I would not be able to sign the law on same-sex unions, and I would return it to the National Assembly,” Vučić said told the daily newspaper Blic.

"It would not be the first time that the president refused to sign an act and that the Constitutional Court act differently afterwards," minister Čomić replied.

Although the LGBTQI community in Serbia is ideologically divided between those who stayed faithful to pure activism (and have their Pride March in June) and those who are getting closer to politics and sponsorships (and hold their parade in September), the fight for equal rights is their common ground.  

University professor Jelisaveta Blagojević says she has a wife and a son. "We are a family. It is clear to me that they [right wing supporters] want to keep this story of a family only for the heterosexual matrix, but the reality denies that,” she told a local media outlet. 

Image: Brian Copeland

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Author
Serbia
Ana Brnabić is Serbia's first openly lesbian prime minister. Brnabić's victory did not improve the situation for the country's queer population, which continues to suffer from discrimination.
© Andrej Isakovic
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić stated that he would veto the proposed law on same-sex unions if it passed, claiming it is unconstitutional.
© Antoine Gyori - Corbis
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