Polish PM keeps justice minister despite gay rights row

WARSAW, March 4 (Reuters) - Poland's prime Minister said on Monday he would not fire Justice Minister Jaroslaw Gowin for his part in defeating a draft law to give limited rights to gay couples, the latest twist in a row that has exposed ideological divisions in the governing party.

Poland has been grappling with issues such as gay rights, abortion, legalisation of soft drugs and the role of the church in public life as younger Poles seeking a more secular society clash with a staunchly Catholic older generation.

In January, Gowin led a group of rebel members of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party to join the opposition in voting down three draft bills, including one that would have given gay couples some rights.

Prime Minister and PO leader Donald Tusk, who spoke out in favour of the reforms at the time, said last week he would meet with Gowin on Monday to discuss the justice minister's future in the government.

"I was convinced by Gowin's declaration that he will not have problems in distinguishing between his own opinions and the loyalty of a government member," Tusk told journalists.

Gowin had vowed to remain in the party even if he lost his post. But if he had decided to leave, his departure would have threatened the government's slim five-seat majority in the lower house of the parliament.

Tusk had been working to kept the balance within the party between Gowin's conservative MPs and a more liberal wing, led by Grzegorz Schetyna, which has campaigned for reforms in other areas including open access to in-vitro fertilisation. (Writing Chris Borowski; Editing by Andrew Heavens)