After seven years of intensive lobbying it seemed that Czech gays and lesbians would finally get their wish - a law enabling them to enter into a form of marriage, give them inheritance rights and the right to be briefed about their partner's state of health. However the bill, which has been approved by both houses of Parliament, seems to have hit the rocks, after President Vaclav Klaus slammed it last week. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek came out strongly in its defence and he and the president are now embroiled in a heated and highly publicized debate over the rights and freedom of minorities.
Daniela Lazarova has been following the story. Daniela, we are hearing a lot of very strong words from both the prime minister and the president -what's happening here?
Well, the president has so far refused to sign the bill, on the grounds that it allegedly undermines traditional values and the institution of marriage. He even described the bill as a "tragic mistake" which would give homosexuals unjustified privileges. This elicited an angry response from the prime minister who did a great deal to ensure support for the bill in the lower house and he promptly wrote a letter to the president urging him to change his mind. Now we don't know how that request was worded but we do know that it contained a reference to the rights and freedom of minorities, and that it evoked a very angry response from the president's spokesman:
"The PM does not have a mandate to lecture the president and the citizens of this country about the meaning of freedom. The PM is using the bill for his own election campaign and the President categorically refuses to be drawn into it."
Very strong words there from the president's spokesman. What's going to happen now?
Well, the president is currently at the Olympic Games in Turin, but he has said he will make up his mind by Thursday whether he is going to just refuse to sign the bill or veto it. If he refused to sign -the bill would become law in due time, but if he vetoed it, which would be the logical thing to expect given the strength of his arguments against it - then its advocates in Parliament would need a majority of 101 votes to override it - and it is not clear whether they would have enough votes to do that, given the fact that this bill has divided politicians across the political spectrum and that the coalition as a whole does not support it. It was only approved by 86 votes in the lower house last December, which is a sobering thought for the homosexual community.
If it should come to a new vote - would the upcoming elections help it or harm it?
That's hard to say. On the one hand, MPs might be more open to the argument that 62 percent of Czechs have indicated they have nothing against gay marriages, on the other hand the sentiments of the general public are fairly lukewarm on this issue and MPs realize that either way their vote on this would not seriously harm their image. So even if it becomes an election issue it is not likely to be one of the big issues on the Czech political scene.