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Is Marriage Equality a Distant Reality in Poland?

If the nation is to heal distanced families and broken hearts, the Polish people and Parliament should move past stalled discourse and act on marriage equality -- with respect, compassion and sensitivity -- to further affirm the dignity of LGBT Pols.
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Inspired and co-authored by Jaroslaw Wakuluk, an aspiring polymath, a Hunter College alumnus and a student for life.

Despite a crackdown in Istanbul and stabbings in Jerusalem, Gay Pride parades this past summer have been especially celebratory for allies and all of the global LGBT community, a result of recent marriage equality rulings in countries like Ireland, Greenland, and the United States. Feel good sentiments are being shared across the globe from New York City, where the modern gay rights movement took root, to Warsaw, a European city experiencing growing activism around LGBT rights, as demonstrated by an outpouring of support at the 15th annual Parada Równości. As Poland's capital, Warsaw is liberal compared to its sister cities across the nation, a country where same-sex marriage is yet to be realized. Law, religiosity, social attitude and legislative hurdles are barriers to achieving full dignity for LGBT Pols in the eyes of the state.

A reading of Polish law makes this hard to believe. Article 32 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of Poland states that "All persons are equal before the law. All persons shall have the right to equal treatment by public authorities. No one shall be discriminated against in political, social and economic life for any reason whatsoever." This declaration is reflective of Poland's post-Second World War endeavor to balance the interests of diverse groups living in the same country. However, as a consequence of shifting borders, the population became largely homogenous, resulting in superficial tolerance of minorities. Equality-for-all remained only on paper, a right enjoyed by certain groups and denied to others, the LGBT community among the disenfranchised.

An exclusionary clause embedded in the same constitution is one contributing factor. According to Article 18, marriage is strictly defined as a union between a man and a woman. Therefore, if same-sex marriage is to become law-of-the-land, a constitutional amendment to broaden the scope of marriage would be necessary. This is unlikely in the near future in a country where close to 90 percent of the population identify as Roman Catholic and where Church teachings - underscore "respect, compassion and sensitivity" for homosexuals; however, uphold marriage as that between a woman and man -- shape the perception of the populace on issues such as homosexuality and marriage equality.

Such influence is evident in opinion-polls, which highlight growing amiability, yet is still far from acceptance of LGBT persons and their rights. According to a 2013 Centrum Badania Opinii Spolecznej or Center for Public Opinion Research poll, 63 percent of Poles are against LGBT individuals being out and about. In regards to civil unions, 19 percent are somewhat supportive, while 14 percent of Poles are very supportive, modest percentages compared to the 20 percent that are somewhat against and 40 percent that are completely against civil same-sex cohabitation. When it comes to same-sex marriage, only 26 percent are supportive, far from the 68 percent of Poles that are against it. Furthermore, only 8 percent of Poles are in support of same-sex couples adopting children in contrast to 87 percent of Poles against it.

Certainly, Poland's entrance into the European Union in 2004 brought about more progressive attitudes toward the LGBT human rights movement, as seen with the inclusion of nondiscrimination laws into the Polish Labor Code and the election of the nation's first gay mayor in 2011. Albeit, elected officials remain resistant, including the incoming president, to entertaining legislation related to the rights of same-sex couples, as seen in parliament's recent vote to drop a civil union bill. The proposed law would have allowed same-sex couples to enjoy the same benefits that their heterosexual counterparts currently have. Limitation by the government to institute equal rights and consequent legal protections have led many LGBT Pols in years past to immigrate elsewhere, such as the United Kingdom.

These challenges persist for the LGBT community in Poland and abroad wishing to find their native home a place that will welcome them with open arms, rights and all included. Polish leaders and the public should find consensus on the right to marry for same-sex couples, an act that has proven to unite more than to divide and one that will testify to the government protecting the rights of the minority. If the nation is to heal distanced families and broken hearts, the Polish people and Parliament should move past stalled discourse and act on marriage equality -- with respect, compassion and sensitivity -- to further affirm the dignity of LGBT Pols.

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