Recognition of same-sex unions in Croatia
|Legal status of
*Not yet in effect
Croatia recognizes life partnerships for same-sex couples through Life Partnership Act, making same-sex couples equal to married couples in everything except adoption. However, the Act provides couples with an institution similar to step-child adoption called partner-guardianship. The Act also recognizes and defines unregistered same-sex relationships as informal life partners, thus making them equal to registered life partnerships after they have been cohabiting for a minimum of 3 years. Croatia first recognized same-sex couples in 2003 through a law on unregistered same-sex unions which was replaced by Life Partnership Act. Croatian Parliament passed the new law on 15 July 2014, taking effect in two stages (5 August 2014 and 1 September 2014). Since the 2013 referendum the Constitution of Croatia limits marriage to opposite-sex couples.
In 2003, one year after the first gay pride in Croatia, then ruling coalition consisted of mostly centre-left parties, has managed to agree and passed a law on same-sex unions. Initially, the law that would recognize registered partnerships with most of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples was planned, but the right-wing Croatian Peasant Party that was the only right-wing party of the coalition has threatened to leave the government should they insist on this law, so the compromise had to be reached in order to save the government. The law granted same-sex partners who have been cohabiting for at least 3 years similar rights as enjoyed by unmarried cohabiting opposite-sex partners in terms of inheritance and financial support, but not right to adopt or any other right included in family law as this law was not part of it, but rather separate law had been created. Registering those relationship was not allowed nor had they included rights in terms of tax, joint properties, health insurance, pensions etc.
In early 2005 Croatian Parliament rejected registered partnerships proposed by Šime Lučin (SDP) and independent Ivo Banac. MP Lucija Čikeš, a member of then ruling HDZ, called for the proposal to be dropped because "all universe is heterosexual, from an atom and the smallest particle, from a fly to an elephant". Another HDZ MP objected on grounds "85% of the population considers itself Catholic and the Church is against heterosexual and homosexual equality". Medical profession, physical profession, and media did not support these statements, warning that all the members of Parliament have duty to vote according to the Constitution which bans discrimination.
Life Partnership Act
On 11 May 2012, Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanović announced further expansion of rights for same-sex couples. At this point it was not known which of the well-known terms such as civil union or registered partnership would be used, but it was certain that Croatian family law would not be modified for this purpose, but rather new law dealing with this issue would be introduced, thus implying that the term marriage will not be used.
On International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in 2012 platforms dealing with LGBT rights have met Minister of Administration Arsen Bauk where he announced further changes in existing laws that will expand LGBT rights, plus new law regulating same-sex partnerships. Name of the law at his point was still unknown, but one of the proposed ones was Life Partnership Act. Minister also said that he strongly believes in equality, and that no politician should make compromises about it, referring to several statements of politicians who support full equality, but are willing to make concessions because society might not be ready for certain changes. Marko Jurčić from Zagreb Pride said that they dislike the idea of this partnership to be called "same-sex" and prefer term "life partnership", open to all genders, but that has been rejected.
Ministry of Administration and the working group responsible for creating a law have met for the first time on 6 September 2012, with expectations for the law to be presented before the Croatian Parliament sometime in 2013. On 16 November 2012, president of the working group Jagoda Botički confirmed that same-sex couples would be able to register their relationships at register offices, same as heterosexual couples, but the law would not include heterosexual couples. She said that the group was in the process of creating a list of rights with the help from several government ministries. LGBT associations Iskorak and Kontra expressed their satisfaction with the fact that registration at register offices will be possible, but at the same time have expressed disappointment with same-sex couples being excluded from the family law, thus making it possible for the law to include less rights than expected as a result of political trade and concessions. This would especially affect same-sex families with children, as it is the most controversial area for the opponents of the law.
On 2 August 2013 Minister of Administration Arsen Bauk once more confirmed that the name of the law will be Life Partnership act, that the registration of the partnership will be identical to the registration of the marriage, and that the law should make same-sex couples equal to married couples, apart from adoption. However, he did say that the step-child adoption is being considered. HNS MPs supported full adoption. Public debate about the law was announced for September that year, and the introduction of the law before the Parliament by the end of it.
On 4 November 2013 first draft of the law was published. The draft made life partners equal to married couples in all areas apart from adoption. However, a parent's life partner may attain partial, in some cases full, parental responsibility over the child. The Act also enables a parent's life partner to become a partner-guardian. Partner-guardianship is equal to step-child adoption, although it does not provide parental status over the parent's life partner. Even though this draft was not part of a Family Law, it referred to it, and defined same-sex couples as family. The draft also banned any present and future discrimination, and every future change of the family law regarding marriage must include Life partnership act as well.
On 12 December 2013 the Government passed the proposed Bill. On 29 January 2014 Parliamentary Committee on Human and National Minority Rights accepted the Life Partnership Act, with 6 members for, and 2 against (who were also members of HDZ). 5 days before this decision Gender Equality Committee also accepted the law. The decision was unanimous, but members of HDZ were absent. The pattern was followed by every other Parliamentary Committee that had to accept the Bill. The Bill was introduced before the Parliament on 27 February 2014, and during the public debate suggestions were made on how to improve the law, with some of them being accepted. The Government passed the final proposal on 24 June 2014 that passed its second reading on 10 July 2014. The parliament passed Life Partnership Act on 15 July 2014 with 89 votes for and 16 against. It was published in the official gazette on 28 July 2014, and it took effect 8 days later (i.e. 5 August 2014), except for the part on parental responsibility which was put into force on 1 September 2014.
According to Articles 73, 74, and 75 of Life Partnership Act same-sex marriages and same-sex partnerships performed abroad are recognized as life partnerships in Croatia (EU and non-EU). This also includes unregistered same-sex relationships where couples have been cohabiting for a minimum of 3 years. They are recognized as informal life partnerships. Furthermore, couples where at least one of the partners is a EU-citizen can enter life partnerships in Croatia, even if their country does not recognize same-sex relationships. Should they decide to move to another EU country that recognizes same-sex partnerships or same-sex marriages, their life partnerships will be recognized according to the legislation of that country. According to law experts this makes the Life Partnership Act as one of the most liberal same-sex partnership acts in Europe.
First life partnership was registered in Zagreb on 5 September 2014. It was reported that first couple were two men. Minister of Administration Arsen Bauk was also present, and presented life partners with two neckties as the gift from Republic of Croatia.Second life partnership took place in Split on 18 September 2014.
Many political parties and politicians have expressed their support for same-sex marriage in Croatia. Most noted are SDP, HNS, HSLS, Green List, Labour Party, Croatian president Ivo Josipović, Vesna Pusić, Mirela Holy etc. In May 2013, a conservative civil initiative group "In the name of the family" collected more than 700 000 signatures for a referendum, which would constitutionally define marriage as "a union between a woman and a man". They needed a minimum of 450,000 signatures, representing 10% of registered voters. The Government disproved of the possible referendum, accusing the Church as the main force behind the initiative. Catholic Church had a major role in collecting signatures as many volunteers were based in front of the churches. The Government also said that this referendum question is in fact unconstitutional. The initiative had divided Croatian society, and opened many question that haven't been considered so far, such as the reform of the law on referendum. According to the current law, turnout is not a condition for a successful referendum, thus enabling a minority of the voters to change the Constitution. Marriage being defined as a union between a woman and a man does not prevent the Government from expanding rights of the same-sex unions, and equalizing them with marriage, thus raising questions on the purpose of the referendum. According to the poll that included 1300 people, 55,3% of them supported this initiative, and 31,1% did not. However, almost 40% decided not to participate in a referendum. Croatian president Ivo Josipović condemned the referendum.
The Parliament voted in favour of not presenting the referendum question before the Constitutional Court. However, after the Parliament had set the date for the referendum, every Croatian citizen had the right to do so. That did happen, and 3 NGOs (Zagreb Pride, Centre For Civil Courage, and CroL) presented the case before the Court. The Constitutional Court did not decide in their favour, stating there is no legal base for banning the referendum. However, the Court was clear in stating that should the citizens support the definition of a marriage as a union between a woman and a man to be included in the Constitution, that must not have any negative effect on future laws regarding same-sex couples, or non-married opposite-sex couples. Conservative Ex-Prime Minister, once a member of right-wing HDZ, and now an independent MP Jadranka Kosor voted in favour of presenting the question before the Constitutional Court, and voted against the proposed Constitutional change on a referendum. This statement was not in line with her previous views on homosexuality and same-sex marriages. She is known for being against the expansion of rights for same-sex couples in the past, and was voted the "homophobe of the year" in 2010 after stating that homosexuality is not natural, and that same-sex marriages should never be legal. She also supported the Life Partnership Act.
There was much resistance to the referendum in Croatia, with some of the media, like daily newspaper Jutarnji list, donating its advertising space to all the organisations and citizens who felt threatened by the referendum. Aside from well-known public figures who were openly against the referendum, Jewish Community in Zagreb, and a Lutheran church were the two religious organisations who also publicly opposed it. Some of the most popular Croatian entertainers including Severina, TBF, Let 3 organised a concert gathering thousands of people in support of marriage equality on the main Zagreb square. Croatian psychologists and psychology students organised a petition in support of marriage equality. On 30 November 2013, one day before the referendum, around a thousand people marched in the city of Zagreb in support of same-sex marriage. Marches of support also took place in Pula, Split, and Rijeka gathering hundreds of people.
The referendum took place on 1 December 2013. 65,87% voted in favour of a constitutional change, and 33,51% voted against. Turnout was low, and 37,9% of the people participated. However, not all counties voted in favour of an amendment. Istria and Primorje-Gorski Kotar voted against with 58,23% and 53,30% respectively. When it comes to larger cities Rijeka voted against with 59,27%, and Pula voted against with 63,64%. Most cities in these two counties voted against, with Labin being the leader with 70,97%. When it comes to cities outside these two counties Varaždin and Čakovec also voted against with 56,94% and 58,95% respectively. Zagreb voted 55,9% in favour, and 43,50% against.
After the referendum Croatian Government with the support of some opposition parties started working on changes of the Constitution. The bit referring to referendums defines clearly what questions can or cannot be subjects to referendums. Furthermore, if citizens want to change the Constitution, turnout must be over 50%. Changes have yet to be presented before the Parliament. Constitutional changes require a support from two thirds of MPs. Croatian president Ivo Josipović suggested that other forms of family life outside marriage should also be protected by the Constitution to balance the injustice created by the referendum on marriage, but his proposal was rejected.
Full LGBT adoption in Croatia is not legal. However, Life Partnership Act recognizes an institution similar to step-child adoption called partner-guardianship. A partner who is not a biological parent of a child can share parental responsibilities with a biological parent or parents if they agree to it, or if the court decides it is in the best interest of a child. Additionally, a biological parent or parents can temporarily give a partner who is not a biological parent full parental responsibilities. A partner who is not a biological parent can also gain permanent parental responsibilities through an institution of Partner-guardian if both biological parents of a child have passed away, or exceptionally if a second biological parent of a child is unknown, and if the court decides it is in the best interest of a child. A single person regardless of sexual orientation is allowed to adopt.
In May 2012, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Welfare Policy and Youth in Kukuriku coalition Milanka Opačić expressed her support for LGBT parenting and said that Croatia should progress to the point where that is acceptable and tolerated, but not just yet as the current situation could lead to discrimination of children from those families and stated that this is the main reason for taking step by step regarding LGBT rights. However, statements coming from her were not welcomed by some NGOs who stated that there are already children in Croatia who live in same-sex families, and those families are desperate for law solutions to their everyday problems; so she should not be perpetuating discriminatory policies, but rather help to create acceptable solutions and fight against discrimination.
Vesna Pusić has long been a supporter for full LGBT parenting. In July 2012, Minister of War Veterans and a member of SDP Predrag Matić has also expressed his support for LGBT adoption and said that society should not falter in achieving equal rights due to pressure coming from right-wing and radical circles. This was seen as a major step considering that war veteran associations are usually associated with right-wing politics. Minister of Economy Ivan Vrdoljak said that LGBT adoption should be allowed, and expressed his hope that the Government would introduce it by the end of their mandate which expires in 2015.
In July 2014 The Government changed and passed the new Family law, with majority of MPs in Sabor voting for it. For the first time in Croatia this made unmarried opposite-sex couples equal to married couples, including adoption. This was seen by some as the first step towards full LGBT adoption, even though Life Partnership Act is not part of the family law. Barrister Sanja Bezbradica Jelavić and Faculty of Law at University of Rijeka professor Sanja Barić pointed out that European Court of Human Rights does not suggest same-sex couples have to be equal to married couples, but it does however suggest that they must be equal to unmarried couples. They referred to the X and Others v. Austria case in which the court decided that the partner in a same-sex union has the right to adopt his or her partner's biological child as the same was possible for unmarried opposite-sex couples. They pointed out that following this decision and logic it is only a matter of time until same-sex couples are allowed to fully adopt in Croatia. Two options are possible; this question can be put before the Constitutional Court in Croatia, and if that proves to be unsuccessful the next step would be European Court of Human Rights, a decision which would be obligatory for Croatia. Minister of Administration Arsen Bauk said that the Government has no intentions of changing the Life Partnership Act at this point, and it would leave this question for future Parliamentary debates.
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