Slovak LGBT+ Christians and their supporters are hoping that the country’s swing to the left politically will bring an end to years of Church-backed oppression.
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In March this year, Progressive Slovakia party candidate Zuzana Caputova beat Direction – Social Democracy (Smer–SD)-backed independent Maroš Šefčovič to become Slovakia’s youngest and first female president.
Caputova’s victory was followed in May by another progressive/centre-right triumph in the European elections, where an alliance of Progressive Slovakia and Together – Civic Democracy came first with 20% of the vote.
That was the first time since 2006 that Smer-SD failed to win the European vote.
During the campaign, Caputova came out in favour of same-sex marriage equality and the possibility of adoption for gay couples, both policies also backed by Progressive Slovakia.
That’s a change from where Smer-SD – which bills itself as left-wing – has taken the country after having been in power for 11 of the past 13 years.
In 2014, for example, Smer-SD teamed up with the Christian Democrats to amend Slovakia’s Constitution to say that “marriage is a union solely between a man and a woman”.
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Observers say Smer-SD has shifted to the right on social issues out of a recognition that it needs the support of the Churches to stay in power.
But the Slovak LGBT+ Christians that Balkan Insight spoke to said that LGBT+ rights aren’t incompatible with Christianity.
“The fight against LGBT has become the main agenda of most Christian Churches in Slovakia”, Martin Kovac, a priest of the Old Catholic Church in Trnava, in the west of Slovakia, told Balkan Insight.
“We want to show that Christianity can look different”.
Anti-gay hate, Kovac continued, “is not a theme of the Gospel, but an element of politicisation of Christianity and creation of imaginary enemies”.
Among the LGBT+ believers who are bringing that “different” Christianity to life is Fero Kuminiak, a member of the Bratislava-based Gay Christians group, a band of around twenty gay Catholics who meet regularly for Bible reading, prayer and debate.
“We just want to lead a normal life, like everyone else”, Kuminiak said.
“We don’t fight for anything or against anyone”.
Another member of the Gay Christians group, Juraj Variny, said he couldn’t understand “why there is so little about love in the Catholic dogma”.
Variny lamented that in a confession once “the priest said he cannot forgive my sins because I don’t live in purity and I don’t regret having a relationship with my partner”.
Another gay Christian from Bratislava, Martin Kolenic, told Balkan Insight: “God would be terribly vicious if he were to create me as I am and didn’t want to take me as I am, wouldn’t he?”
“Christianity, as I understand it, is about love. It would be absurd if God said: ‘Okay, all of you can feel love, except you'”.
Zuzka (not her real name), a lesbian daughter of a Greek Catholic priest, added that: “I owe who I am largely to the Church. I saw so many good things there. But I don’t feel accepted. Otherwise, I wouldn’t hide my orientation for 25 years”.
New President Caputova, and the gay Christians Balkan Insight spoke to, have a hard road ahead of them increasing LGBT+ rights in Slovakia.
The first obstacle is the Catholic Church, which on the campaign trail warned that voting for Caputova was a sin.
Another hurdle is the rise of the homophobic, anti-migrant and far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia, whose candidate polled more than 10% in the presidential election, thanks to support from some Catholic priests.
That’s on top of the fact that nearly half of all Slovaks say they would feel bothered by having an LGBT+ neighbour, according to a 2016 survey.
Just 21% say they would feel comfortable having an LGBT+ colleague at work.
But according to a poll this month, 57% say they would support gay marriage.
Ondrek Prostrednik, an evangelical theologian and member of the Progressive Slovakia party, said that’s where efforts will begin.
“In the future, we want to introduce same-sex unions, but it will depend on many factors, including how many votes we will be able to collect to support this project in the next parliament”, Prostrednik told Balkan Insight.
“Christian human anthropology needs to be updated.
“After all, as science developed, we stopped believing in geocentrism…, and today even the Christians accept evolution, although it’s clearly in conflict with the Bible”.
Prostrednik added that “inside the Church there are many who support LGBT, but they keep silent”.
“They are afraid of being isolated, stigmatised or simply mistaken. In the Church, you cannot be mistaken”.
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