The Hungarian Parliament has adopted today the revised bill on registered partnership. The bill was introduced to the Parliament following the Constitutional Court decision of December 2008 that struck down the previous version of the law just weeks before its supposed entry into force. The new legislation introduces the institution of registered partnership for same sex couples and also sets up a different scheme of domestic partnership registration for both same sex and different sex couples. The bill was adopted 199-159-8, the governing socialist party and their former liberal coalition partner voted for the bill, other opposition parties voted against it.
The legislative history of the Registered Partnership Act started in October 2007, when following the attempt of the liberal party (Alliance of Free Democrats) to open up marriage for same sex couples, the Hungarian Socialist Party – as a compromise solution – called on the government to prepare a bill on registered partnership. Within a month, the government submitted a bill to the Parliament, which was adopted in a short, but heated debate on December 17, 2007. The bill was supposed to enter into force a year later, on January 1, 2009. Soon after its adoption several Christian and conservative groups filed petition with the Constitutional Court to declare the law unconstitutional. The Court delivered its decision in December 2008 striking down the law on the ground that by allowing different sex couples to enter into a relationship very similar to that of marriage duplicates the institution of marriage, and thus contradicts the special protection of marriage enshrined in the Constitution. On the other hand, the Court also held that the introduction of an institution similar to marriage for same sex couples is a constitutional duty. Within a day Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány instructed the Minister of Justice and Law Enforcement to prepare a new bill on registered partnership, which was submitted to the Parliament on 16 February, 2009.
The act bears the intimidating title of Act on Registered Partnership and Related Legislation and on the Amendment of Other Statutes to Facilitate the Proof of Cohabitation, and retains much of the content of the previous bill with one exception: the institution of registered partnership will only be available to same sex couples. Establishment and dissolution of registered partnerships will be the same as for marriage, and registered partners will be entitled to most of the rights available for married couples. Notable exceptions are the right to take the partners’ name, to adopt children and to participate in assisted reproduction. Besides introducing registered partnerships for same sex couples, the new act also introduces a scheme for registering domestic partnerships. Unlike registered partnership, this new opportunity will not grant any new rights or duties to couples cohabiting without marriage, but will only make it easier for them to prove the existence of such a relationship. This second registration scheme will be available to both same sex and different sex couples.
LGBT NGOs criticized the bill for not granting the same rights to registered partners as to married couples, as well as for the provision limiting the possibility to enter into registered partnership to citizens of states that already recognize registered partnership. Amendments were submitted by socialist and liberal MPs to respond to these demands, but only the amendments concerning foreign citizens were adopted by the majority of the parliament. LGBT and human rights NGOs were, on the other hand, successful in adding data protection rules to the law: as an unprecedented legal innovation the law contains that public or private actors can demand and record information on family status only in a form that does not treat marriage and registered partnership as separate categories. This means that gays and lesbians are not forced to disclose their sexual orientation when they have to declare their family status.
President László Sólyom has fifteen days to sign the law, veto it or send it to the Constitutional Court. As the law is very similar to the one adopted a year and a half ago, a presidential veto is unlikely, although Sólyom’s deteriorating relationship with the governing party makes the political process somewhat unpredictable. The law would enter into force two months after its signature, either on June 1 or July 1, 2009.