A cultural Iron Curtain now very much divides the two halves of the EU. To the west, are the more progressive, ethnically diverse and secular states of western Europe. To the east, are the more traditionalist, more homogenous and largely re-Christianising former communist states. Slightly shocking perhaps to some then that the conservative and historically Catholic Czech Republic (Czechia) is on the verge of legalising same-sex marriage, a move which would make the country the first in central and east Europe to do so.
Currently Czechia, Estonia and Slovenia are the only countries in central and eastern Europe which permit same-sex civil unions without any legal restrictions on marriage. Croatia, Hungary, and Montenegro recognise same-sex partnerships, however all three recognise marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman (this restriction is also true of Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine). Poland and Slovakia also recognise private contractual cohabitation of two people (regardless of sexual orientation or relationship) for limited purposes.
The Czech move would be a big deal. As reported by Euronews, a cross-party motion was put to the lower house of Parliament on June 7. By the standards of the region, support for LGBT rights is high. According to Pew Research Center’s analysis on social attitudes across Europe, Czechia not only enjoys the highest support for same-sex marriage in the region (65 per cent for and 29 per cent against) but is the only country in the region with majority support at all. In central and easter Europe, the next most supportive country is Slovakia (47 per cent both for and against) and Poland (59 per cent against). Even relatively liberal Estonia trails at 71 per cent against.
These attitudes also carry among younger adults. For instance, only 18 per cent of young Czechs oppose same-sex marriage. That is higher than most of western Europe, but stands out compared to regional allies such as Poland (50 per cent against) and Hungary (52 per cent against). Meanwhile four of the six political parties, in the Czech Chamber of Deputies support the legal change, and the new draft was sponsored by a Parliamentarian from four of the five parties of the ruling coalition. According to Olga Richterová, deputy speaker of the Chamber: “If more people want to bear the obligations of marriage, we should support it.” Meanwhile, Martin Baxa – Minister of Culture and Vice Chair of the Civic Democrats, the largest of the coalition partners – said the bill “will lead to the full equality of people of the same sex…a strong loving bond between people should be equal for all.”
For his part however, President Miloš Zeman said he would veto any change, while Prime Minister Petr Fiala (pictured) – a staunch Roman Catholic who recently met with Pope Francis – has publicly opposed same-sex marriage in the past. Meanwhile, last December an amendment which would have forced the Czech courts to recognise adoptions of children abroad by same-sex couples failed in the Senate. However, the European Court of Justice has ruled that parental rights must be recognised in all EU states, including same-sex couples who adopt from abroad.
However, despite support for same-sex marriage in Czechia – and a low level of religiosity compared to neighbouring countries (albeit the decline of Catholicism shows some signs of reversing) – the country continues to share far greater cultural alignment with its neighbours than with western Europe. Despite younger Czechs being in favour of same-sex marriage, only 16 per cent of them would be willing to accept a Muslim into their family, the lowest of any EU state. While Czechs seem like an outlier in terms of religion, same-sex marriage and abortion (Czechia also enjoys the highest support for legal abortion in central and eastern Europe at 84 per cent), Czechs come down harder on immigration and nationality. In Czechia, 63 per cent of 18-34-year-olds and 67 per cent of over-35s link ancestry with national identity, putting them in line with other young central and eastern Europeans.
Even on gay rights, Czechia is sometimes ranked behind other EU states. In the ILGA Rainbow Europe’s map of LGBT+ rights, Czechia scored just 26 per cent, behind both Slovakia and Hungary. Indeed, the fact a draft of a same-sex marriage bill was first introduced four years ago and only passed its first reading one year ago, later stalling in committees before crumbling before elections last year, demonstrates the uphill struggle for supporters of any legal change. Meanwhile, no delegate from coalition partner the Christian Democrats signed the new amendment. Most parties remain split, and both the Civil Democrats and Christian Democrats will allow members a free vote. That said, there is a sense the legal change has a good chance, while Parliament could override any presidential veto. The next step is for the amendment to go to the Government and then back to Parliament next month. That this is happening in Czechia points to the fact the country is a regional outlier in terms of religiosity. However, western Europeans should not mistake this for any marked liberal shift. Czechia is very much aligned with its central and eastern European neighbours on immigration, nationality and tradition. Any change meanwhile is unlikely to spread to countries like Poland or Slovakia, while the cultural cleavage within the EU is unlikely to be eroded, whether Czechia legalises same-sex marriage or not.
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund