Europe of Human Rights

On the evening of 4 June 2011, mayor of Warsaw-Ursynów district Piotr Guział hung a rainbow banner on the pole in front of the city hall. It was a highly symbolic event, officially starting the Diversity Week organized by this district. Its significance, however, is much broader.

The date of 4 June is one of the most important in the modern history of Poland. Twenty-two years ago, on exactly the same day that the horrors of Tiananmen happened, Poland had its first free parliamentary elections. These led to democratic changes, when the Solidarity movement took power, and caused later transformations in the whole Eastern bloc.

At that time just a few in Poland thought about the LGBT community; they were a highly marginalized group. The first independent LGBT organizations slowly started to emerge in the 1990s to raise awareness on the need to protect their rights.

Just six years ago the LGBT community faced a ban on a gay pride event (the Equality Parade), issued by Mayor of Warsaw Lech Kaczyński. The result was a successful litigation before the European Court of Human Rights (Bączkowski and others v. Poland), but even more importantly, in the emancipation of the LGBT movement in Poland. More and more persons decided to come out. Hate speech attracted public attention and resulted in important strategic court cases. Leaders of the LGBT movement used every possible media opportunity to talk about their cause. Gay pride events in 2006 and subsequent years were allowed and occurred without problems. One could expect that sooner or later changes would come, though discrimination was still present.

It seems that 2010 and 2011 are breakthrough years. For the first time, the need to regulate the status of same-sex partnerships became the topic of debates of presidential candidates. EuroPride 2010 was organized in Warsaw; it did not provoke any special protests. Despite massive attraction it was quite an ordinary event. In October 2010, Krystian Legierski, openly gay and one of the leaders of the LGBT movement, was elected as a local councillor of Warsaw. In May 2011, the left-wing party Alliance of Democratic Left (SLD) submitted to the Polish Parliament a draft for a civil union law, modelled on French PACS. Finally, recent polls show that 54% of the Polish population supports the idea of same-sex partnership. All of this shows that this issue is no longer only on the agenda of marginalized or extreme left-wing groups, but has become a mainstream political issue.

The rainbow flag hanging in front of the public administrative office is symbolic; it was put there by a local administration official and not by an NGO leader as a sign of civic disobedience. It was done without any protest. If such things continue to happen, one should expect the passing of a same-sex partnership law quite soon, maybe even in 2012.

EU law obviously does not stipulate any necessity to pass a same-sex partnership law. However, some Polish politicians have raised concerns that one day such laws will be imposed by the Court of Justice of the European Union. It was one of the reasons to adopt the British-Polish Protocol, restricting applicability of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It seems that Polish politicians overestimated the impact of the EU law. The major support for same-sex partnership will come from Polish society itself, despite objections of the Catholic church or political groups. The rational choice to provide for a comfortable way of living in partnerships has a chance to outweigh prejudices, fears and opportunistic political interest.

 

Adam Bodnar

Project “Europe of Human Rights”

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

 

 

 

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