Next Saturday, June 13th will be the 15th Ljubljana Pride. It will wrap up a week of events focusing on diversity and inclusion. This year we have something special to celebrate: The Slovenian parliament adopted legislation granting same-sex couples the same rights in marriage and family life as opposite sex couples. The road to equality in Slovenia has been long and bumpy and we are not there yet.
Slovenia adopted its first registered partnership law, called ZRIPS, in 2005. The law however denied couples equal inheritance, social security and parenting rights. In 2011 the Slovenian Parliament overhauled the Family Code. Included in the new legislation was the extension of rights derived from marriage to same sex couples. Adoption from a third party was not included in the law, although same sex couples would be allowed to legally adopt the biological children of their partner. In March 2012, the opposition called a referendum. Approximately 31 % of all Slovene voters participated in the referendum; 55 % of these voted against, and the new Family Code was not enacted. It was the second time an equality issue was defeated by referendum: in 2001 a referendum denied unmarried women access to artificial insemination (IVF). Since same sex couples can not marry, this de facto limited their parenting rights.
The new law is thus a key step forward, but the matter is not settled yet. Anti-equality groups have collected enough signatures to challenge the legislation. The Slovenian Constitutional Court will now need to decide whether the matter can be put to a referendum.
Two important events have taken place since the 2012 referendum. First, in 2013, the Slovenian Constitutional Court issued a judgment on a complaint against the 2005 Registered Partnership Law (ZRIPS). The Court ruled that same sex couples must have the same inheritance rights as married, heterosexual couples. Importantly, Article 13 of the Court decision says, “In today’s society, there are no more disagreements that same sex couples, like heterosexual couples, create loving and long-lasting partnerships”. Second, in 2013 the rules for referendum were amended in the Constitution. Now, Article 90 of the Constitution reads: “A referendum may not be called on laws eliminating an unconstitutionality in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms or any other unconstitutionality.”
With my fellow advocates of equality, I hope this means the Court would block a referendum aimed at annulling same-sex marriage. But we will have to wait for the process to complete before we can truly celebrate.
One of the reasons what happens in Slovenia is so important, is that many countries in the region look to it as an example.
At a seminar on the new law that I chaired one week before the first debate in Parliament, I was pleased to see various ambassadors from former Yugoslav countries. I asked one of them why he had decided to attend. His answer was very simple: “Slovenia was always regarded as the Switzerland of Yugoslavia, so what happens here matters and is often a sign of things to come for us”. That would be great news, because discrimination against LGBTI people is sadly still a reality in former Yugoslavia and beyond. Even organizing a pride march is impossible or dangerous in various countries. Last year when I attended the Ljubljana Pride with my family I was pleasantly surprised about the relaxed atmosphere: people were having picnics in the sunshine while live music played in the background.
Pride events are a way to show solidarity with a vulnerable minority in society. It allows us to take a stand against discrimination.
It is unacceptable that someone should be denied equal rights to a family life or anything else, simply because they love someone of the same gender. So next Saturday let’s celebrate love and diversity and show Slovenia is an open, inclusive society. I hope many people will heed the call of the organizers to come to the Ljubljana Pride with your families and show support.
Author: Lousewies van der Laan, a progressive politician with wide experience in promoting democracy, human rights, including women’s and minority rights and international justice. A former MEP and currently vice-president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). She is also an avid Twitter user.