Albania’s recently re-elected Prime Minister Sali Berisha announced yesterday that his government is preparing a bill to legalize homosexual “marriage,” despite hostility to the idea from many quarters in the small Balkan country.
“A law that could provoke debates and reactions aims to put an end to discrimination and will allow civil unions between same-sex persons,” Berisha said in a government statement. He added that there is “a certain hostility towards minorities” in Albania and called on citizens to respect “the standards of other European countries.”
The plan to introduce the legislation is seen by critics as an attempt by Berisha to bring the country closer to the European Union. The former Communist country joined NATO in April, and has applied to be considered for joining the EU.
From 1944 to April 1985, Albania was dominated by Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who enforced a severe policy of isolation and atheism. After Hoxha’s death in 1985, the country slowly reengaged with the outside world, and reformed its government structures after the fall of Communism.
The proposed bill will most likely provoke controversy and debate in a country where the majority of the population are Muslims, with large Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic minorities.
Opposition to the legislation by Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox leaders has been “vehement,” according to a BBC report.
A spokesman of the Catholic Church in Tirana said: “We cannot accept that law, we are categorically against it.”
“We will firmly oppose that law,” Islamic leader Selim Muca told AFP.
Berisha, who leads the right-wing Democratic Party that won the June 28 election and controls 74 of Parliament’s 140 seats, is regarded as a conservative leader of one of Europe’s most conservative countries, where homosexuality was illegal until 1995. The unexpected move toward recognizing same-sex unions caught many legislators by surprise.
Media reported that as Berisha presented the bill before the assembly, some members of the parliament laughed.