Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homosexuals win legal victory against Poland

From: FT
Poland may not discriminate against homosexual couples, in spite of a clause in the its constitution stating that marriage is “a union of a man and a woman”, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Strasbourg.

The court found, in a unanimous ruling released on Monday, in favour of Piotr Kozak, whose partner died in 1998, and who had his request to continue lining in their municipal flat in the western city of Szczecin turned down, in spite of a provision in Polish law allowing a “person who has lived in de facto cohabitation with the tenant” to succeed to the tenancy.

The Strasbourg tribunal recognised the difficulty in maintaining a balance between traditional marriage and the rights of sexual minorities but found that the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights is “a living instrument” and has to be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions. It also found that, in this case, Poland did not have a clear interest in discriminating between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

The case was greeted with joy by gay and lesbian groups in Poland.

“This is a very important case because it shows a certain inequality before the law,” said Yga Kostrzewa, spokeswoman for Lambda Warsaw, a homosexual rights group. “There will certainly be many more cases like this because there are a lot of laws and regulations that do not treat people equally.”

The ruling was viewed much more cautiously by conservatives and the Church. In an interview with the Catholic KAI news agency, Bishop Stanislaw Stefaniuk said the decision was dictated more by ideology than by the law. He said: “We still have not reached the ‘success’ of having homosexual unions treated the same as marriages but verdicts like that of the tribunal are supposed to be a guidepost for Polish courts.”

Gay rights are a controversial issue in overwhelmingly Catholic Poland. Opinion polls show that almost half of Poles feel that homosexuality is a deviance, and, except for the small ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance, no parliamentary parties are interested in pursuing the issue.

“The current parliament is very conservative, so it is unlikely to undertake any work on this subject,” said Ms Kostrzewa.

Poland became a gay-rights target after attempts by Lech Kaczynski, then the mayor of Warsaw and now the country's president, to ban a gay rights parade in 2004 and 2005.