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It's been five years

LGBT Rights in Croatia after referendum

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Five years after a referendum effectively banned gay marriage in Croatia, conservatives behind the vote will gather in a 5-star Zagreb hotel to mark the anniversary. Gay couples, however, have moved on to a new fight – for the right to foster or adopt children.

December 1 marks five years since Croatia voted in a referendum to define marriage as a union ‘between a man and a woman’, effectively banning gay marriage in the predominantly Catholic nation that only five months earlier had become the newest member of the European Union.

The main force behind the vote, the conservative group In the Name of the Family, will mark the occasion “and all the successes of the first five years” with a ‘donation dinner’ the following week at a downtown hotel in the Croatian capital, according to an invitation seen by BIRN.

Less than a year after the plebiscite, the Life Partnership Act gave gay couples in Croatia all the rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, with the exception of the right to foster or adopt a child.

LGBT activist Ivan Zidarevic and his partner were the first to register their life partnership at a ceremony performed in front of a registrar. Some 259 gay couples have since followed suit.

He recalled hearing about the plans of the then Social Democratic government to adopt the law.

“My partner, now my husband, and I said to ourselves, ‘Okay, we’re not going abroad. Croatia will adopt a law, we should be patient.”

“It is de facto marriage because we have literally all rights to social care, healthcare…,” Zidarevic, who is originally from Serbia, told BIRN. “Everybody knows about us - our neighbours, my banker, my boss.”

While Zidarevic says he and his partner have no plans for children, he noted that a draft Foster Care Act in Croatia makes no mention of gay couples.

The gay rights organisation Rainbow Family has called on Croatian MPs to include same-sex life partners in the final text of the act and thus demonstrate that “Croatia stands side by side with counties such as Germany and Ireland in treating their citizens equally.”

Here is a timeline of the fight so far:

  • May 2013 - Civic initiative ‘In the Name of the Family’, backed by the Catholic Church and rightist political parties, announces it has collected more than 750,000 signatures demanding a referendum on the nature of marriage.
  • June 2013 - More than 10,000 people join Zagreb Pride in the Croatian capital in support of gays and lesbians in their struggle for the legal right to marry. Politicians, actors and celebrities joined what was the biggest pride march in its then 12-year history in Croatia.
  • December 2013 – In only the third referendum ever held in Croatia, 65 per cent of voters backed the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, obliging parliament to amend the constitution.
  • August 2014 - Croatia's Life Partnership Act, which regulates the rights of same-sex unions, comes into effect. Parliament passed the law as an alternative to conventional marriage in light of the referendum result.
  • September 2014 – Within days of the law entering into force, Zidarevic and his partner become the first to register. “The registrar told me journalists had been calling her, people were interested in it,” he recalled. Arsen Bauk, Croatia’s then Minister of Public Administration, attended the ceremony.
  • February 2017 – Tear gas is thrown during an LGBT night at a Zagreb nightclub. The government condemned the attack.
  • January 2018 – “My Rainbow Family”, a children’s book featuring same-sex parents, is published. Two weeks later, a copy is burned in front of children and parents at a pre-Lent carnival in Kastela near the coastal city of Split.
  • October 2018 - A new law on foster parenting is taken off the agenda of the parliament’s committee on family due to strong opposition from the liberal Croatian People’s Party (HNS), a junior partner in the conservative-led government.

HNS deputy Milorad Batinic said the draft, in excluding same-sex couples, “would denigrate the entire Life Partnership Act as well as some parts of the constitution.”

Currently, a single person has the right to foster, but a person in a same-sex marriage does not.

Some members of the ruling Croatian Democratic Alliance, HDZ, have said allowing same-sex partners to foster children would go against their beliefs.