Czech government backs bill on same-sex marriage

Participants prepare for the Prague Pride Parade where thousands marched through the city centre in support of gay rights, in Czech Republic, August 13, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech government gave its backing on Friday to a bill which would make the country the first in formerly communist Europe to allow same-sex marriage.

The Czech Republic has been allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter registered partnerships since 2006. A group of 46 lawmakers across the floor drafted the marriage bill, arguing that gay couples deserved the option of full marital status.

An opposing bill, presented by 37 lawmakers, calls for a definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman to be enshrined in the constitution.

The bill allowing same-sex marriages would need only a simple majority in the 200-seat house, while the constitutional change would require 120 votes.

Most western European countries permit same-sex marriage, but the only formerly communist region where it is legal is the east of now-unified Germany.

Unlike neighboring Poland and Slovakia, the Czech Republic is one of Europe’s most secular societies and religious groups have a relatively weak voice.

In a poll conducted in May, 50 percent of respondents supported gay marriage. Seventy-four percent approved of the existing registered partnership option.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Friday his government backed the legislation to introduce same-sex marriage. But it is uncertain when the parliament may get to a vote on the rival bills as the parties have been struggling to create a full-fledged administration since last October’s election.

Babis’s centrist ANO party won that vote by a large margin and formed a minority government, but he failed to secure parliamentary support. He is now trying to form a new cabinet with the center-left Social Democrats that would also need the backing of the Communist party.

Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Andrew Roche