Almost one year ago, on 7 February 2015, there took place a controversial referendum on “the protection of traditional family“ in Slovakia. It was initiated by the conservative Alliance for Family with massive support from the Slovak Catholic Church and some political parties. Slovak voters were asked to express their opinion on three referendum questions. The fourth one relating to the rejection of civil partnerships was refused by the Constitutional Court due to its unconstitutionality, seeing as it breached human rights. Civil partnership was de facto declared a natural right of people, although there is no law in Slovakia at the moment.
Moreover, two constitutional judges attached different legal opinions to the major court´s judgement. In my opinion, their standpoint will be important for the further development of Slovak legislation in this field. Both judges said that Slovakians will decide about the future spirit of their country in this referendum. They argued that the court did not examine whether the referendum applies or not to vulnerable minorities on issues relating to identity and the nature of fundamental rights and freedoms. According to them, the court´s findings did not cover the constitutional principles of non-discrimination or respect for the natural rights of every human being as rights that are inviolable, inalienable and irrevocable.
Three other questions were allowed by the Constitutional Court. The first was construed to answer whether Slovak voters agree that marriage shall not be named any other relationship than cohabitation between one man and one woman. Leaving aside my deprecatory opinion about the referendum as a whole, this question was pointless, since a constitutional amendment from June 2014 had stated that marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman.
The second question aimed to ban the adoption of children by homosexual couples. The question itself was very controversial, because, according to present law, single people may adopt children under strict conditions. Sexual orientation plays a role in assessing the suitability of the candidate(s) for adoption of children by Slovak authorities; however, it is not crucial. Further, a negative official decision due to sexual orientation is in contradiction with fundamental rights of such people, notably with the right to privacy.
According to the third question, the schools must not demand that children take part in education about sexual behaviour and euthanasia if their parents or the children themselves disagree with the content of such education. This question was also quite irrational, since there is no subject like sexual education at either Slovak elementary or high schools. Paradoxically, several experts and Sexologists criticize a very low level of sexual literacy in Slovakia.
Despite the massive campaign in favour of a referendum including a public appeal during masses in churches, the overall turnout was only 21,41 % and even less than expected according to public polls. The referendum was thus invalid. Taking into account that almost 85 % of Slovakians declare themselves Christians, the referendum results were a big surprise, even for the organizers themselves. They showed namely that the position of the Catholic Church in Slovak society and its impact on conduct of believers is not as strong as outwardly presented. The significant majority of Slovakians considered the referendum senseless and therefore ignored it. They indirectly expressed some empathy towards sexual minorities in country.
However, the current legal situation of LGBT people in Slovakia cannot be designated as satisfactory at all. The level of rights and judicial protection for sexual minorities is even worse than in some neighbouring countries. The institution of civil partnerships has not been enacted (by contrast to Hungary and Czech Republic) in Slovakia and LGBT topics are still taboo in society. In that regard, last year´s referendum is actually a beam of hope to deal with legal difficulties which same-sex couples face in their day-to-day life.
In other words, the 2015 referendum gives rise to pursue cardinal changes in Slovak legal system in order to equalize this permanently marginalized community with major population. Finally, Slovakians begin to understand that gender preference does not define you. It is a spirit that defines you…