Whilst in Australia they are currently debating whether to allow gay marriage alongside civil partnerships and in the UK there is a possibility of a case to attempt to allow heterosexual couples the option of civil partnerships as well as marriage – the same option that homosexuals have – it is easy to forget that in some parts of the world people and laws are not so relaxed on the subject of gay rights, particularly when those countries belong to the same developed world, claiming to want to be more like their western counterparts.
Slovakia, like all countries in Europe, recognises same-sex relations and has done since 1962 when it was under Czechoslovakian law. Also, like most other European countries, LGBT people can serve in the military, anti-gay discrimination is illegal, single LGBT persons are allowed to adopt, and are allowed to change their gender, although this requires them to be sterilised beforehand. The biggest fight on the hands of the LGBT community in Slovakia at present remains the fight for same-sex marriage, or at the very least the right to have your partner recognised in the eyes of the law.
On 7th February 2015 a referendum was held in the country after a huge push from conservative groups whose aim was to try and block the gain of more rights by gay couples. The ballot questions included those pertaining to the limitation of the word ‘marriage’ to a union between a woman and a man, and also the exclusion of children from sex education and lessons regarding issues such as euthanasia if their parents so wished. Despite a big campaign, especially in comparison with the LGBT community’s counter-campaign, only 21.4% of citizens came to vote.
This, according to members of the Central Slovakian LGBT initiative, based in Banska Bystrica, was a huge step in the right direction for members of the community in Slovakia. However, since the failed referendum things have not moved forward as they thought they would, although attitudes are changing.
According to my sources within the community, like in so many countries the loudest voices – the ones in power – are the ones who are against homosexuality; most Slovaks are not fussed either way. In 2007, a report by the Pew Global Attitudes Project stated that 66% of Slovaks feel that homosexuality should be accepted, as opposed to 29% who thought it should be rejected. When speaking with other Slovaks on the issue this is the feeling I garnered, although it was not without old prejudices. One male I spoke to said, “I don’t care if people are gay, as long as they aren’t around me.” (Because, of course, if you have a gay friend, they will automatically fancy you. Even if your face resembles the back of horse). Whether these feelings are due to ignorance or just not wanting to look too keen to support LGBT rights in front of other people is anyone’s guess. A more recent poll in 2012 showed that 47% of Slovaks would vote in favour of same-sex marriage, compared with only 19% in an earlier survey by the European Union.
However, regardless of these changes in attitude, changes to LGBT rights, along with those of the Roma, have made no significant progress. Over the past three years it has been a major issue, although greater importance has been given to refugees in recent months. The LGBT community is still very active here though, and becoming more active still, particularly in Bratislava where there are a number of gay bars and clubs. From 2010 to 2014, Rainbow Pride was held annually. Unfortunately, in 2015 the parade was cancelled, although the 2016 march is due to take place at the end of June. In Banska Bystrica many events are organised for the community, a sure sign they have no intention of keeping quiet.
Like with so many issues, the ideologies of those in power do not entirely match the ones of the people they work for. However, times are changing, and there is hope that Slovakia will follow the lead of other European countries, including that of its close neighbour, Czech Republic, in gaining rights for its gay community. Or, as one person I spoke to suggested, “We just have to wait until all the old people die.”