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(New York) - The Slovenian Parliament should adopt the new Family Code proposed by the Slovenian Government, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to parliament members. The law would extend civil marriage to lesbian and gay couples and put heterosexual and homosexual partnerships on equal legal footing, including the right of same-sex partners to adopt.

"In recent years many European states have extended civil marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples," said Boris Dittrich, acting director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "The proposed Family Code is Slovenia's chance to join others in Europe in enabling same-sex couples to participate fully in family life."

Many governments within Europe have grasped the urgency of ending discrimination in access to civil marriage and adoption, Human Rights Watch said. The Netherlands' legislature extended full civil marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2001; Belgium did the same in 2003 for civil marriage and in 2006 for adoption. Spain followed suit in 2005. Same-sex marriage became legal in Norway on January 1, 2009; in Sweden on May 1, 2009; in Portugal on June 5, 2010; and in Iceland on June 27, 2010. Outside Europe, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, Mexico City, and several states within the US recognize same-sex marriage.

On March 31, 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe also unanimously adopted a set of recommendations to member states, including Slovenia, on measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Slovenian government first proposed the bill in September 2009.  In accordance with international human rights standards and in line with recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and Slovenian national courts, the new Family Code would make three significant and necessary changes, Human Rights Watch said.

In article 2, "family" is defined as a union of an adult, or two adults, and a child, with the required bond based on the adult's role as caregiver rather than his or her biological connection. Article 3 stipulates that "matrimony union" is a union between two people of a different or same gender. Article 213 provides the right of single- or joint-parent adoption for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

The right to marry is a basic human right enshrined in both article 12 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and article 9 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights (Charter), as is the right to respect for private and family life in articles 8 and 7 respectively. The right to equality and to be free from discrimination is also stipulated in article 14 of the ECHR and articles 20 and 21 of the Charter.

"Governments committed to equality should not exclude anyone from certain areas of civil life," Dittrich said. "Ending unequal treatment in recognizing families and relationships is the right thing to do."

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