By Rachel Savage
LONDON, Aug 19 (Openly) - Ivo and Jakub Slavka love being called "Dad" and "Daddy" by their two young foster children, but their bigger dream is of being recognised as fathers by the Czech Republic.
The Slavkas - Jakub took Ivo's surname when they became civil partners in 2012 - had to go court to become joint foster parents. And they cannot adopt their children or get married as neither right is given to gay couples in the Czech Republic.
"We would like to be married, not to be registered," said Ivo, a 54-year-old civil servant originally from Slovakia, comparing the civil partnership process to registering a car.
"We would like to adopt our children ... They know about their families, but they call us fathers," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call from the capital, Prague.
With elections due in October, the chances of the Czech Republic becoming the first formerly communist European country to grant marriage equality are slim, even though a bill passed a first reading in parliament in April.
The Czech Republic is one of Europe's most secular societies and religious groups have a relatively weak voice, unlike in neighbouring Poland and Slovakia. But the issue has split Czech parties into factions and was approved by a slim margin.
The Slavkas, who used a legal loophole of having the second parent recognised as an additional foster parent in court at a later date, also hoped that a separate bill allowing any two adults to foster would become law this year.
But parliament voted against it earlier this month.
If same-sex couples are allowed to wed, other laws will change to give them the same rights as straight ones, including to foster and adopt, said Filip Milde, spokesperson for the Czech LGBT+ campaign Marriage For All.
A 2019 survey by Marriage For All found 67% of Czechs support same-sex marriage, 62% back joint adoption and 77% supporting one partner being able to adopt another's child.
'GIVE US A CHANCE'
LGBT+ family rights have lagged behind the recognition of same-sex relationships in Europe.
Same-sex couples can marry in 14 of the European Union's 27 countries, according to advocacy group ILGA-World.
But same-sex couples in civil partnerships, which are allowed in a further eight EU countries, cannot adopt except in Slovenia and Estonia where one person can apply to become the second adoptive parent of their spouse's child.
A court in Croatia, which introduced same-sex civil partnerships in 2014, also ruled in April that LGBT+ couples could jointly adopt, although the government has appealed against the decision.
Unlike adoptive parents, foster parents in most countries do not have the legal right to make major decisions about a child, such as over their health care, which usually remain the responsibility of the local authority or birth parents.
While politicians are giving increasing recognition to same-sex couples, some continue to invoke negative stereotypes to justify the denial of family rights, said Alina Tryfonidou, a law professor at Neapolis University Pafos in Cyprus.
"People tend to think that gay people are oversexualised, that they will have sex with whatever moves. That's very insulting," said Tryfonidou, an expert in EU LGBT+ rights and also a visiting professor at Britain's Reading University.
"The other argument often made is that if a child is brought up by same-sex couples, that will cause psychological problems for the child."
Other eastern European governments are pushing back against the growing acceptance of LGBT+ family rights around the world, in a bid to portray themselves as defending traditional conservative values against the liberalism of Western Europe.
Hungary last year banned same-sex adoption by changing the constitutional definition of family to "based on marriage ... the mother is a woman, the father is a man," as nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban readies for elections in April.
In the Czech Republic, Slavka said he had not experienced any discrimination from family, friends or colleagues since he met Jakub, 40, through a mutual friend and in 2009 became a couple.
But he worried about what would happen if he died, as civil partnership does not automatically entitle Jakub to a "widower's pension" or to inherit property.
"I'm happy with the life I have with my partner. I'm very happy we have children and we can take care of them," said Slavka.
"I hope and I wish the politicians, they give us a chance to be on the same level as (the majority) of the Czech Republic."
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(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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