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News 29 Sep 17

Croatia Abandons Move to Define 'Family' After Protests

Croatia's government has backed away fast from a controversial draft proposal for a law defining the family - but outraged activists are demanding to know who was resonsible for the idea.

Sven Milekic
Croatian government in session on Thursday. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic

Croatia's centre-right government on Thursday caved in to protests and withdrew a draft proposal for a new law defining the family that had infuriated activists.

Civil society groups welcomed the backdown - but said they were far from reassured and demanded to know who had been responsible for the wording.

"This is good news, because we wanted this definition to dissapear, but we must be on guard. It [the law] may return in some other form, or scattered in different articles of the law indirectly," Neva Tolle, from the Zagreb-based women rights NGO, Autonomous Women’s House, told BIRN.

The now withdrawn draft law narrowed the definition of what constitutes a family and left some categories out altogether.

“The family consists of: a mother, father and their children, a mother with a child or a father with a child although they do not live together, and other relatives living with them,” the draft stated.

After the draft entered a month-long process of public debate on Thursday, many organisations and individuals criticised the planned definition for excluding people living in non-marital and same-sex unions, as well as heterosexual couples that do not have children.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told a government session on Thursday that this was not supposed to be the version presented to the public, but by then the draft had already caused uproar on social networks.

“Regarding the family law proposal and the fact that the daughter of my wife and I died, and we don’t have children, does it mean that we are not a family?” a user named Juha Pekka Salo asked on Twitter on Thursday.

Although the law has now been withdrawn, Tolle said acitvists wanted to know "who was responsible for a law containing such a definition of the family, and who the members of the working group working on the draft were".

Zagreb Pride, an NGO promoting LGBT rights, echoed those concerns.

"We are interested to know who was responsible for this, who were the members of the working group and who will be held responsible for that, and in what way," it told BIRN.

Danijela Drandic, from the Zagreb-based NGO Parents in Action, RODA, told BIRN that while in Croatia, the state wished to prescribe what a family is or should be, in Germany, “lawmakers saw how things are in society and then regulated what really exists in that society.

“What we [Croatia] are doing is not looking at how society really looks, but trying to impose certain standards, which don’t regulate the family as it exists today, in 2017,” she said.

She said that the planned definition reflected “certain ideological positions”, rather than trying to resolve legal issues.

Zageb Pride called the withdrawn draft proposal “a decisive attack on all families in Croatia, not just on life-long partners".

“The persons responsible for creating this law are the same ones who are for five years have worked on reducing human rights in Croatia,” it stated, referring to the 2013 referendum that led to a ban on future gay marriage.

A conservative-values NGO, In the Name of the Family, gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum that year on the constitutional definition of marriage.

As more than 65 per cent then voted to define marriage as a purely heterosexual union, the centre-left government in 2014 passed a compromise law introducing life partnerships, which offered LGBT couples almost same rights as regular marriage, except rights to adoption.

Sanja Baric, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Rijeka, told BIRN that if such a definition of family had been established in the law, a constitutional review of the law would likely overturn it.

She explained that all laws in Croatia are obliged to be in line with international conventions to which Croatia is a party, as well as with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

“According to the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, the family is a very broad term that includes extramarital communities as well as communities of older people with children, grandparents with grandchildren, same-sex unions, same-sex unions with children,” Baric concluded.

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