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CROATIA: Ivo and Mladen’s battle to become parents in Croatia

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– Submission to Civic Pride Awards July 2021 by Rainbow Families Croatia (RFC).

On 5 May 2021, a Croatian court ruled that same-sex partners can now adopt children, backing the gay couple Mladen Kozic and Ivo Segota in their five-year fight for the right to family life. This follows the Zagreb Administrative Court ruling on April 21st 2021, declaring that same-sex couples should not face discrimination in state adoption, the Rainbow Families Croatia association (RFC) stated on its website, alongside a redacted copy of the judgment.

The head of the RFC, which funded the case, voiced excitement at this latest win for minority rights in the small Balkan state. “I feel really relieved that this odyssey, that lasted so many years, has finally hit (its) conclusion,” Daniel Martinovic said to the media. He said the couple – Mladen and Ivo – had only gone public with their victory after consulting the social worker of the two boys they look after, the first children to be fostered by a same-sex couple in Croatia.

Croatia has introduced some human rights reforms since joining the European Union in 2013, but the Catholic-majority country remains relatively conservative, with media reporting Pride flags being burned and attacks on LGBT+ Croatians. If the ruling stands, it would be the 15th of the EU’s 27 member countries to permit same-sex couples to jointly adopt children, according to ILGA-World, an LGBT+ advocacy group.

Croatia legalised same-sex civil partnerships – “life partnerships” – in 2014, after a referendum that enshrined marriage in the constitution as solely between a man and woman. A 2019 law that aimed to boost the number of foster parents said single people, married couples and unmarried couples could foster, but did not mention those in “life partnerships”. That law was also challenged by Kozic, 40, and Segota, 38, both from Zagreb, after their application to adopt was rejected.

They became foster parents in September 2020, caring for boys of seven and five, and their lawyer is urging the government to let them adopt now, too. “There are children which need their attention, their love,” Sanja Bezbradica Jelavic stated to the media. “Give my clients this right and give the children this right to be in a family they want.”

The case of Mladen and Ivo has faced challenges on all levels; from the Social Care Centre that rejected them, from the Ministry of Family which upheld that rejection, and then from the far-right and catholic media that attacked them personally. But they persisted, and with the help of Rainbow Families Croatia they showed that strategic litigation is a tool that can be used in Southeastern Europe to advance LGBTI rights.

The visibility of Ivo and Mladen changed the perspective on LGBTIQ parenting in Croatia; the courage of them showing that there exist two men who openly state that they wish to become parents in a strongly patriarchal society challenged the discourse on what it means to be a good parent, it exposed the hypocrisy of far-right/religious organization that talk about children rights only in theory, but when it comes to helping real, living children that spend their childhoods in foster care homes do nothing and finally we managed for LGBTI rights in Croatia to be a topic on the forefront of political debates in the last five years.

Watch the short documentary about Ivo and Mladen (with english subtitles) below.