Poland's upper house of parliament approved a bill Friday that would give gay couples legal partnership rights, immediately drawing sharp criticism from the nation's powerful Roman Catholic Church. The senate voted 38-23, with 15 abstentions, to send the draft to the lower house, or Sejm, where the bill was expected to meet resistance. If it becomes law, the bill would allow gay couples to register with city or town officials, which would give them inheritance rights and other legal guarantees--though not the right to adopt children. Senator Maria Szyszkowska, a member of Prime Minister Marek Belka's Democratic Left Alliance who authored the bill, said the decision marks the "start of building tolerance in Poland."
But Father Jerzy Kloch, spokesman for the Polish Episcopate, blasted the measure, saying it violates Poland's constitution, which reads that "a marriage is a union between a man and a woman." "If this bill was implemented, it would bring irreparable social damage for marriage and family and upbringing of children," Kloch said. "The church has made its stand on the issue known many times during meetings between the church and the government, and we hope such law will not be implemented in Poland."
Pope John Paul II, a native of Poland whose words carry great sway in this predominantly Catholic country, last month reiterated his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage. He warned against attempts to tamper with what he called "the irreplaceable" institution of marriage-based family in an apparent reference to moves like granting gay couples social benefits.
Szymon Niemiec, the head of Poland's Association of Gays and Lesbians, said the upper house's decision is a "huge success for Poland's democracy" but acknowledged it will be an uphill struggle to get the bill passed into law. "This is the first very difficult and very important step toward making this a normal country," Niemiec told Polish news agency PAP. "A long and hard road is still ahead of us, but the most important step has been taken. This is a huge change."