On Tuesday, March 2, the European Court of Human Rights announced its verdict in the Paweł Kozak vs. Poland case. Mr. Kozak had filed against being discriminated against because of his sexual orientation regarding exercising his right to private and family life. He won the case. In 1998 Mr. Kozak’s partner died; a man with whom Kozak was living at the time and renting a council flat. It was Kozak’s wish to take advantage of the law in force at the time which permitted “a person engaged in a mutual, marital relationship with a lessee of an apartment” to acquire the lease to that apartment. The mayor of Szczecin rejected Kozak’s claim, the refusal was later approved by two courts, their justification being that only heterosexual couples could enjoy the rights resulting from a “mutual relationship” as only that type of relationship could be referred to as “marital”. The courts then quoted the Polish Constitution which defines marriage as a “relationship between a man and a woman”.
The Court of Human Rights explained that “in its search for ways to protect the traditional family, a country has to consider social changes and the fact that there is more than one way a person can exercise the right to private and family life”. The Court admitted that the task of searching for a balance between the protection of the traditional family and the rights of sexual minorities is a difficult one. Countries are given little leeway when it comes to restricting the rights of minorities and Poland seems to have gone too far in this regard by taking away the privilege to acquire the right to lease an apartment from gay couples – especially since that does very little in terms of protecting the family. At the moment in Poland a homosexual is forbidden by law to bury his partner as he is not considered a close enough relative to the deceased. In the event of a partner’s sudden death, homosexuals do not automatically inherit the estate of their partner – they can do so but only after payment of a 20% tax. A homosexual is not permitted to represent his partner in civil cases nor can he claim a partner’s retirement or disability pension after his death even if the two spent their whole lives together, sharing a common household.