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Polish conservatives aghast at Human Rights Court verdict

Strasbourg decision could give additional rights to same-sex couples in Poland.

(Photo by Reuters)

Editor's note: As part of our ongoing Rainbow Planet series chronicling the global fight for gay rights, correspondents look at eastern European countries whose traditional values clash with those of their western European partners. Below, Jan Cienski reports that a decision by the European Court of Human Rights has angered conservatives. In neighboring Lithuania, David L. Stern examines a new law that could stigmatize gays and lesbians — or worse.

WARSAW, Poland — Polish conservatives have long warned that cozying up to western Europe may help the country’s economy and security, but carries grave dangers of importing western values that are anathema to traditionalists.

They have been proven correct by a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled on whether a common law spouse of a deceased man could take over his rights to rent a low-cost apartment from the government of the western Polish city of Szczecin.

The common law spouse was a man, Piotr Kozak, and Polish law, which only recognizes marriage as “a union of a man and a woman,” makes no provision for same-sex couples.

After his partner’s death in 1998, Kozak was turned down by the city in his request to stay in the apartment, and his claims were rejected by a series of Polish courts before he went to the Human Rights Court (which is not connected to the European Union) in Strasbourg.

There, the court found that, while protecting the family was a legitimate reason which could justify a difference in treatment, it also found that the 1953 Human Rights Convention “is a living instrument, to be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions.”

The led to a unanimous verdict that found: “a blanket exclusion of persons living in a homosexual relationship from succession to a tenancy cannot be accepted by the Court as necessary for the protection of the family viewed in its traditional sense.”

Although the ruling did not say whether Kozak can continue living in the apartment, and did not agree with his request for damages, gay rights groups are greeting it as a victory.

“In its ruling, the [Court] reminded, yet again, that sexual orientation is one of the most intimate and personal characteristics of every person, and as such is protected,” said Krzysztof Smiszek, a lawyer for the Campaign Against Homophobia, a gay rights group.

Other gay rights activists say that they expect an avalanche of similar cases to now begin appearing in Polish courts.

Polish conservatives are aghast.