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And Number Eight May Be… Albania?

Timothy Kincaid

July 30th, 2009

Back in May when Sweden became the seventh nation to recognize same-sex marriages, had we conducted a pool as to what nation would be next, very few of you would have bet on Albania. In fact, I imagine that very few of you could have found Albania on a map.

Albania is a Balkan nation tucked between Greece and Montenegro. It has a relatively conservative culture and homosexuality is not well tolerated by the people. In fact, none of its direct neighbors offer any recognition of same-sex relationships.

But Albania wants to join the European Union. And they know that passing marriage equality would present a modern progressive image to the rest of the continent. So Prime Minister Sali Berisha took a surprising step by announcing that the country would move in that direction. (BBC)

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has announced his party will propose a law legalising same-sex marriage.

It is an unexpected move in a country that is still one of the most conservative in the Europe and where homosexuality was illegal until 1995.

Mr Berisha acknowledged the proposed law might provoke debate but maintained that discrimination in modern Albania had to end.

This bill, which will be voted on in the fall, has the expected opposition of Catholic and Muslim leaders. But while Albania is primarily Muslim, this is not a strongly religious nation. While most residents still associate themselves with Christianity or Islam, over 70% of residents do not attend services and consider themselves to be non-religious. Practicing religion was banned during the 1944-1990 Communist regime.

I know too little of Albanian politics to make any predictions at this time. Although Berisha and his right-wing Democrat Party hold 74 of 140 seats and the bill is reportedly popular among the legislators, I am not sure whether they vote in a block or whether there may be defectors. Additionally, I’ve not heard whether the opposition Socialist Party is putting up a strong objection to the bill.

But should Albania become the eighth nation to enact marriage equality, this may well serve to shame some more progressive nations that pride themselves on their culture and civility.

Comments

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Penguinsaur
July 30th, 2009 | LINK

The laughs are never gonna stop once bigots have to explain away the US being less equal than frickin Albania.

AJD
July 30th, 2009 | LINK

Penguinsaur: Even if it doesn’t work out in Albania, they still have to explain why we’re behind a conservative Catholic kingdom (i.e. Spain) and a country that had Apartheid until 1994 (South Africa).

Richard W. Fitch
July 30th, 2009 | LINK

Oh, but it is quite simple. Albania is trying to bribe the members of the European Union to allow them into this economic cooperative. The US does not need to pursue such bribery, already being bully enough to get in everywhere.

Burr
July 30th, 2009 | LINK

That’s a pretty odd rationale, but who am I to argue I guess. It’s not like full marriage rights are ubiquitous across the EU.

I think what’s impressive is they aren’t going for the incremental approach. Perhaps if it doesn’t pass they will still generate enough pressure for a civil union compromise..

tavdy79
July 31st, 2009 | LINK

AJD, it’s probably worth noting that Albania would only be the second republic to legalise gay marriage, after ZA; the other six are all monarchies. There’s only one monarchy left in Europe that neither has recognition nor is making any moves to do so – the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Richard, you’re almost definitely right about this being a ploy to get Albania into the EU, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing from Albania’s point of view. There have been a lot of problems in western-EU states with eastern-Europeans breaking laws they weren’t aware of; Albania, Croatia and others are changing their laws to resemble those of the west to prevent that kind of misunderstanding once they join.

Burr, full marriage rights aren’t ubiquitous across the EU at the moment, but they could be in the future. I don’t think the EU has the power to force member states to legalise gay marriage, however the European Court of Human Rights does and all EU states (and many others, including Turkey, Russia and Ukraine) are subject to ECHR rulings, as will the EU itself be once the Lisbon Treaty is fully ratified.

David
July 31st, 2009 | LINK

” the other six are all monarchies.”
Just for the (USA) record, that doesnt make us ruled by them, for instance, my contry (Sweden) our king has only symbolic powers, no political ones…
Our (democratly voted) goverments have raised the question to dethrone him a few times, but our king and his family is quite popular, and it is VERY unlikely to happen

Ephilei
July 31st, 2009 | LINK

So, Albania is the new Iowa.

Matt
July 31st, 2009 | LINK

I am confused by tavdy’s response. I think you need to be more precise. My country, Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Do you understand the distinction? Do you think the Queen was involved in legislation of marriage? The head of state is symbolic.

BradP
July 31st, 2009 | LINK

I agree with Matt–what? What does it matter that Spain/Ned/Belg/Canada/Sweden/Norway are monarchies?

Constitutional monarchies are functionally no different from other parliamentary democracies, except that the King(SP/Belg/Swe/Nor)/Queen(Ned)/Sovereign(Can) are not elected and figurehead presidents are. Sure, the monarch’s powers are theoretically vast, but never used. Parliament still runs the show. It’s not like the monarch is passing notes saying “It is Our royal wish that gay marriage be legalized, pls handle, kthx.”

Canada’s gay marriage law wasn’t even signed into law by the Sovereign or by her representative, the Governor General. The Chief Justice, acting as Deputy Governor General, did it.

People gratuitously putting down monarchies should really understand them a little better. Our Sovereign and Governor General are well respected. And they can do things without there being a political overtone. Bush visiting the troops in his flight gear (mission accomplished, yeah!) was a political stunt; Michaelle Jean’s wasn’t.

redhairedghoul
July 31st, 2009 | LINK

In Albania, they would still get harassed to no end if they tried to get married.

In 2006, Albania passed a “no smoking” ordinance, which made it “illegal” to smoke inside a bar/cafe. No one stopped. No one. You could go to the trendiest bar in the capital and there would be an ashtray on the table waiting for you to light up.

Laws mean nothing in Albania.

----
July 31st, 2009 | LINK

Isn’t Albania land of the “sworn virgins”, women who choose to live as men but cannot have sex with them? I wonder how this decision (if passes) might effect that lifestyle.

dmatt_dc
August 2nd, 2009 | LINK

I lived in Albania for two years and must say that redhairedghoul’s point, while very unfortunate, is valid.
Albania is moving decisively to formally enter the western/european world including NATO -which it joined in 2009, and eventually the EU and it is making a wide range of legislative moves to get there.

A colleague noted Albania will do Anything to get into the EU – as long as it does not mean actually working… passing a law is easy peasy…

Of course, nowhere does legislation alone translate into respect for the rights of LGBT persons. In fact, the record of Albania on this is pretty shabby. Due in part to lack of exposure, it has a long way to go in terms of respect for those living with HIV/AIDS also.

I suggest anyone interested review the US Dept. of State Human Rights Report for 2006… and the case of the detention, illtreatment, and trial of 5(of 8) arrested gays and lesbians in Tirana in 2006: http://www.ilga-europe.org/content/download/8388/50234

However, it is also interesting to note that there are other socio-cultural factors at play that could actually see that legislation move forward as well as a growth in respect for LGBT rights:
– ALbania is generally a tolerant society… Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics and others live and work side by side here in harmony. This is not the case elsewhere in the Balkans and barely the case in much of the EU.
– ALbania is a country of about 3 million — with another 2 million living in Italy and Greece. Another million plus are in the wider EU and elsewhere (USA/Canada/Etc.) This enormous population abroad, which travels home regularly, is learning the ways of their host countries and those valuse are transferring home slowly, but surely.

Also worth note is the almost assured support of the Socialist Party for the proposed bill. The PS party leader (Rama) is a liberal-minded artist turned politician who studied and taught for years in France…

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