The Slovak Church unfortunately involved in the issue of same-sex partnerships?
In comparison with other countries in Western Europe, the extent of the discussions on the Synod on the Family in the Czech Republic is relatively small: the questionnaire in the Lineamenta of the XIV Ordinary synod of bishops has attracted about 120 respondents, which is a very small number. Nonetheless, the Czech Republic is discussing the issue of marital and family life on many levels. In March 2015, at a study day organized by the Czech Bishops’ Conference for theologians and representatives of diocesan centres for the family, the Prague centre for family organized a panel about the Synod on the family with chosen experts in the field. Non-church initiatives are also taking place. In June 2015, the Moravian city of Olomouc will host a colloquium On the Way to Dialogue – Family in the Church, organized by a group of lay people and a priest who wish to promote a more extensive degree of openness and dialogue in the Roman Catholic Church in the Czech Republic.
Very lively are the discussions about the Synod of the Family in the milieu of the LGBT Christians in the Czech Republic, who are traditionally very active. Members of Logos, the organisation for LGBT Christians in the Czech Republic, welcome every possibility to discuss the topic of minority sexual identity in the church with the aim of achieving a more positive reception from the Christian heterosexual majority. Their activities, consisting of regular meetings of regional groups but also of their participation in the Prague Pride Festival to support the human rights of the LGBT minority in the Czech Republic, increased in connection with the referendum on same-sex marriage in Slovakia on February 7th this year.
Slovakia is a neighbour country to the Czech Republic with a very similar language. And people on both sides of the border still have many personal contacts and relationships across the border from the time of the Czechoslovak federation. The Slovak population of 5.4 million is predominantly Catholic. In 2014, the so called Alliance for Family (Aliancia za rodinu) in Slovakia collected sufficient signatures and financial backing to force a referendum intended to strengthen the constitutional ban on the legal recognition of partnerships for LGBT people, and to permit an opt-out from classes on sex education and euthanasia in schools. The three questions in the referendum were the following:
- Do you agree that no other cohabitation between persons than the bond between one man and one woman can be called marriage?
- Do you agree that same-sex couples or groups should not be allowed to adopt and raise children?
- Do you agree that schools cannot require children to participate in education pertaining to sexual behaviour or euthanasia if the children or their parents don’t agree with the content of the education?
Originally a fourth question was also proposed: ‘Do you agree that no other cohabitation except marriage should enjoy the same protection, right and obligations, which are conceded in the precepts of law at 1st of March exclusively to marriage and married people – in particular, their recognition, registration and validity as a life partnership in front of a public authority, and the possibility to adopt a child by the partner of the natural parent?’. This question was rejected by the Constitutional Court of Slovakia. The impulse to test the legitimacy of the questions in the referendum came from the President of the Slovak Republic Andrej Kiska, who submitted the referendum questions to the Court in order to ensure their wording was consistent with the Constitution. The President’s action was described by the Conference of Slovak Bishops (Konferencia biskupov Slovenska) as a surprise, and by the organizing Alliance for Family as a disappointment. On the other hand, the President’s decision was received gladly by Amnesty International Slovakia and by LGBT activists.
The referendum was deemed invalid due to low turnout, with just 21.4 per cent of eligible voters casting votes, far short of the 50 per cent required for the results to be legally binding. Of those who did vote in the referendum, 94.50 per cent answered ‘yes’ to the first question, 4.13 per cent voted ‘no’, and 1.36 per cent of responses were invalid. The second question was positively answered by 92.43 per cent, negatively by 5.54 per cent, and 2.01 per cent of votes were invalid. The third question attracted 90.32 per cent of yes votes, 7.34 per cent of no votes, and 2.33 per cent of votes were invalid.
The referendum could be evaluated as an invalid attempt without any ethical and theological relevance. But this wouldn’t be true. It is important to know that, from the very beginning, the activity connected with the referendum involved the Roman Catholic Church in Slovakia. Already in March 2014 (almost one year before the referendum) the Conference of Slovak Bishops expressed its support for the petition activity. The campaign for the referendum was often raised in Catholic churches during services. Here I mention three such instances. One was the homily of the popular Slovak priest Marian Kuffa, whose homilies and statements are documented in the internet. Another example is the homily of the Greek Catholic Priest Rastislav Bako, who attempted to issue a statement against LGBT partnership in a homily within a service which was to be transmitted by Slovak TV in the time of forbidden campaigning directly before the referendum. The result was that the TV company rejected the transmission. And at least on Sunday the 1st of February, 6 days before the referendum, a pastoral letter of the Slovak bishops was read in every Catholic Church in Slovakia. The text of the letter is very radical and triumphant. Every believer is encouraged to take part in the referendum and to respond to every question with yes. The discourse of the letter is very militant – the words from the semantic field ‘fighting’ are used more than ten times. The text speaks about ‘the most basic values of the human family’ and tries even to answer the questions of the referendum from the position of Pope Francis.
On the basis of these proclamations and the involvement of the Church representatives in this issue, the referendum became a vote about Church positions too, and about obedience to the bishops. The failure of the referendum signals a rejection of their authority in moral issues. According to the Population and Housing Census 2001, 68.93 per cent of Slovaks are Roman Catholic. However, the referendum turnout was only 21.4 per cent. The Slovak experience teaches us not to use church statements in a simplifying and triumphant way. The issues of same-sex marriage and gender studies remain serious topics of serious research. The results of such research should be communicated very carefully and objectively both inside and outside of the Church.